Live Updates On The New Horizons Flyby Of Ultima Thule
03 January, 2019, 07:13 | Author: Jared Lewis
Cheers erupted in the control centre and in a nearby auditorium, where hundreds more - still tired from the double countdowns on New Year's Eve - gathered to await word.
An anxious spill-over crowd in a nearby auditorium joined in the loud celebration.
Scientists chose to study Ultima Thule with New Horizons after the spaceship, which launched in 2006, completed its main mission of flying by Pluto in 2015, returning the most detailed images ever taken of the dwarf planet. Scientists said it will take almost two years for New Horizons to beam back all its observations of Ultima Thule, a full billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto.
Space exploration history has been made by Nasa's New Horizons probe, which has been recording imagery from the furthest a spacecraft has ever been sent.
"We have a healthy spacecraft", said mission operations manager Alice Bowman, as cheers erupted in the control rooms at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland.
NASA scientists believe Ultima Thule has been orbiting the sun undisturbed since its inception and is like a "time capsule" that might shed scientific insights into the origins of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has survived humanity's most distant exploration of another world.
The news was greeted with cheers by officials and onlookers at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, home to Mission Control.
A tiny, icy world a billion miles beyond Pluto is getting a New Year's Day visitor.
An image of Thule, sent overnight and barely more detailed than previous images, deepens the mystery of whether Thule is a single rock shaped like an asymmetrical peanut or actually two rocks orbiting each other, "blurred together due to their proximity", Stern said.
Initial flyby data has also revealed our first discovery about Ultima Thule, showing that it is spinning like a propeller, with its axis pointing approximately towards New Horizons.
New Horizons sweeps past Ultima Thule - described as a bullet intersecting with another bullet (computer simulation).
That better data won't take long to start turning up. At a speed of 31,500 miles per hour (50,700 kph), New Horizons could easily be knocked out by a rice-sized particle.
The exact shape and composition won't be known until Ultima Thule starts sending back its treasure trove of data, a process expected to last nearly two years.
On Tuesday, scientists released an image that was taken before the closest point of the approach that revealed Ultima Thule is likely to be a bowling pin-shaped object about 35 kilometres long by 15 kilometres at its widest. The visit to Ultima Thule means it has delivered on the second half of its mission, which is to provide the first closeup investigation of a member of the Kuiper Belt, a vast region of small, frozen bodies that ply the twilight darkness far beyond the major planets of our solar system. "We will find out".
"It's a better pixelated blob", said Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
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