Author Topic: New Horizons and Ultima Thule  (Read 409 times)


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New Horizons and Ultima Thule
« on: January 07, 2019, 09:19:52 PM »
I watched the New Horizons flyby of the Kuiper Belt object now called Ultima Thule on NASA TV live when it took place (about 5:30 AM GMT on January 1). I thought about posting something beforehand, but I knew it would just be some NASA boffins sitting in a room in front of monitors talking to each other, then either expressing dismay or celebrating. Which is exactly what happened, with the celebrating part rather than the other. It would take at least a day or so before anything was downloaded and converted into usable images.

Ultima Thule was intriguing because previously it had shown a variation in its albedo (reflectivity), but as New Horizons approached the information sent back showed no evidence of such variation. The route of the spacecraft meant that its approach was from a different angle than what had been available previously.

The first images published were described as showing an object shaped like a bowling pin.


The Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule takes on a bowling pin shape (left) in this view from the New Horizons spacecraft taken on Dec. 31, 2018 just before its flyby closest approach on Jan. 1, 2019. At right is an artist's sketch of the object. . . . It is approximately 20 miles long by 10 miles wide (32 kilometers by 16 kilometers).
Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI; sketch courtesy of James Tuttle Keane

This explained the discrepancy between earlier observations and New Horizons data. New Horizons was approaching from the "side" of the bowling pin as Ultima Thule rotated, while previously the view had been from either the top or bottom as it rotated.

When the data from the flyby had been processed, it became clear that Ultima Thule was not a bowling pin, but more like a snowman.


This first color photo of the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule reveals the object's red color as seen by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft from a distance of 85,000 miles (137,000 kilometers) during a Jan. 1, 2019 flyby. From left to right: an enhanced color image, a higher-resolution black and white image, and an overlay that combines both into a more detailed view.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute


We now know what Ultima Thule looks like, and it's not a bowling pin.

The first resolved photos of Ultima Thule have come in from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which zoomed past the frigid faraway object just after midnight yesterday (Jan. 1). The historic imagery reveals that the 21-mile-long (33 kilometers) Ultima is a "contact binary" composed of two roughly spherical lobes.

Photos taken by New Horizons over the previous week or so had suggested that these two lobes are connected by a relatively narrow neck. But the new imagery shows they're glommed tightly together, dashing earlier analogies.

"That bowling pin is gone," New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, said during a news conference today (Jan. 2). "It's a snowman, if it's anything at all."

[Continues . . .]
« Last Edit: January 08, 2019, 06:27:39 PM by Recusant »
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Re: New Horizons and Ultima Thule
« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2019, 08:39:57 PM »
New Horizons is a miraculous vehicle.  It is a tribute to human ingenuity and the determined quest for  knowledge.


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Re: New Horizons and Ultima Thule
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2019, 01:13:39 AM »
Out of this world.  8)
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Re: New Horizons and Ultima Thule
« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2019, 07:36:17 PM »
It's things like this that make it worthwhile getting up in the morning.
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