Tag Archives: Horizons

NASA Releases New, High-Quality New Horizons Image of the Ultima Thule "Snowman" Asteroid

NASA Releases New, High-Quality New Horizons Image of the Ultima Thule "Snowman" AsteroidThis new image highlights all kinds of features that weren't visible in the initial images.



Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines

After historic flyby, New Horizons probe treks deeper on hunt for moons

After historic flyby, New Horizons probe treks deeper on hunt for moonsThe piano-sized probe is travelling deep into the ring of celestial bodies known as the Kuiper Belt looking for small, icy moons that spun off the snowman-shaped Ultima Thule formation, a pair of icy space rocks that fused in orbit billions of years ago. “If we’ve seen bodies one and two, the question is what about bodies three, four and five?” Mark Showalter, a New Horizons investigator, said during a news conference at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland. New Horizons on New Year’s day came within 2,200 miles (3,500 km) of Ultima Thule, which represents a pristine time capsule dating to the birth of the solar system.



Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines

New Horizons isn’t done yet, and NASA is searching for its next target

New Horizons isn’t done yet, and NASA is searching for its next targetNew Horizons gave NASA an amazing New Year's gift when it sent back gorgeous images of the distant Solar System object Ultima Thule, which we now know is the very first contact binary every visited by man-made spacecraft. It's been a fantastic few days for the New Horizons team, but the spacecraft is far from finished.

Now, even as NASA scientists prepare to download a massive collection of data collected during the Ultima Thule flyby, the spacecraft's handlers are busy searching for its next target. The probe still has plenty of fuel to play with, and there's no shortage of interesting objects in the Kuiper Belt, which is packed with debris of varying sizes.

As Space News explains, deciding on Ultima Thule took a lot of time and effort, as well as some help from the powerful Hubble Space Telescope. When picking Ultima Thule, the team weighed many different factors, including how interesting the object itself might be and the probability of making a safe pass.

The good news is that New Horizons is equipped with an instrument designed specifically to spot objects that are far away. The Long Range Reconnaissance Imager helped the New Horizons team aim the spacecraft in the ideal direction for a close flyby, but sending back those images take a long time. A new software change could allow the spacecraft to snap many different images, combine them, and then send them back as one, which would save time, but that system is still in its conceptual stage and not ready for prime time.

NASA will continue to search for new objects that would be crossing near the current path of the spacecraft at the right time, but at the moment the future is still shrouded in mystery. For the time being, the New Horizons team will sift through the Ultima Thule data that will continue to trickle in for the next two years or so, but once they have decided on a new object to visit the hype will begin building once again.



Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines

New Horizons unveils a new world. Actually, it's 2 worlds smashed together.

New Horizons unveils a new world. Actually, it's 2 worlds smashed together.It's a new, weird world.  The deep space exploration craft New Horizons has sent back the first detailed images of an ancient world floating more than 4 billion miles from Earth, formally known as 2014 MU69. The clearest glimpse yet of MU69 shows that it's shaped like a snowman, with two roundish lobes that have been fused together.  It is by far the most distant world a spacecraft — and by extension humanity — has ever explored. "What this spacecraft and this team accomplished is unprecedented," Alan Stern, the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, said from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory on Wednesday. Image: jhapl/nasaNew Horizons — which previously revealed the majesty of Pluto in 2015 — swooped just 2,200 miles from the surface of MU69, which has been temporarily nicknamed Ultima Thule (the International Association of Astronomers will eventually endow MU69 with its official name). These images, though, are not of that absolute closest approach. Over the coming days and weeks, New Horizons will continue to transmit back more images that will reveal greater detail, and closer views of the object. "So stay tuned," Jeff Moore, the New Horizons geology team lead, said on Wednesday.  SEE ALSO: Queen rockstar unleashes badass space song about mysterious world of Ultima Thule MU69 is of profound interest to scientists. This world lies in a far-off group of objects, called the Kuiper Belt, that ring the solar system. Temperatures here approach absolute zero (minus 460 degrees Fahrenheit), which is as cold as it gets. Consequently, scientists suspect that these ancient objects have been preserved in relatively pristine condition since the beginnings of the still-forming solar system, some 4 billion years ago.  Seeing MU69, then, is like peering into the solar system's past.  Moore believes MU69 is composed of small icy bodies that are about 4.5 billion years old. Over time, these objects likely coalesced, and eventually two of these objects began to spiral close to one another. One day, they touched. Now, they're stuck together. The formation of MU69.Image: jhapl/nasaViewing MU69 is like looking at some of the "only remaining building blocks of the solar system" said Moore.  And as the New Horizons team suspected, this world is indeed reddish, and likely made up of different ices that have been subjected to space radiation for billions of years. "Now we can definitely say that Ultima Thule is red," said Carly Howett, a New Horizons planetary scientist. A reddish MU69.Image: jhapl/nasaAs the New Horizons team still awaits more detailed images of MU69, New Horizons will continue to journey deeper into space.  Perhaps scientists will spot another faint, distant object, and send New Horizons that way. The craft itself, while now 13 years old, won't hold them back "The spacecraft is in peak health," said Stern.  WATCH: Ever wonder how the universe might end?  



Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines

Ultima Thule: First photographs taken by New Horizons spacecraft reveal distant world resembles snowman

Ultima Thule: First photographs taken by New Horizons spacecraft reveal distant world resembles snowmanNasa has revealed the first photo of the distant world of Ultima Thule, the most distant object that humanity has ever explored. The tiny, icy object resembles a snowman in the photo, which is just the first of a whole host of data that the space agency hopes to receive back from its New Horizons spacecraft. The picture came after flight controllers said they had had success in the high-risk, middle-of-the-night encounter at the mysterious body known as Ultima Thule on the frozen fringes of our solar system, about four billion miles away in a dark and frigid region of space known as the Kuiper Belt. Now they will work to download and look through all of the data sent back over that long distance, a process that could take years. "That image is so 2018… Meet Ultima Thule!" said lead investigator Alan Stern, doing little to hide his joy as he revealed a new sharper image of the cosmic body, taken at a distance as close as 17,000 miles with a resolution of 140 metres per pixel. "That bowling pin is gone – it's a snowman if anything at all," Dr Stern said during a Nasa briefing. "What this spacecraft and this team accomplished is unprecedented." These are the first colour images of Ultima Thule, taken at a distance of 85,000 miles, highlighting its reddish surface Credit: AFP Ultima Thule's surface reflects light about as much as "garden variety dirt," he said, as the sun's rays are 1,600 times fainter there than on Earth. The body is roughly 19 miles long and completes its own rotation in about 15 hours. Nasa dubbed the larger lobe Ultima, and the other, which is about three times smaller, Thule. "This is the first object that we can clearly tell was born this way" Stern said, instead of evolving as a sort of "bi-lobe." "This really puts the nail on the coffin now. We know that this is how these kinds of objects in many cases form." Alan Stern, with New Horizons team members  Credit: AFP Around 4.5 billion years ago a cloud of frozen pebbles began to join forces, gradually forming two bodies - Ultima and Thule. Slowing turning, they eventually touched at each other at what mission geology manager Jeff Moore called an "extremely slow speed" – maybe just one to a few miles per hour. If such a meeting occurred between two cars in a parking lot, he said, no driver would bother writing it up. The lobes, according to Moore, are really just "resting on each other." "New Horizons is like a time machine, taking us back to the birth of the solar system," Moore said. "We are seeing a physical representation of the beginning of planetary formation, frozen in time." Carly Howett, another researcher of the mission, noted that "we can definitely say that Ultima Thule is red," perhaps due to irradiation of ice. The close approach came a half-hour into the new year, and three years after New Horizons' unprecedented swing past Pluto.



Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines

NASA declares New Horizons flyby of Ultima Thule a huge success

NASA declares New Horizons flyby of Ultima Thule a huge successWhile most of us were popping the corks on bottles of champagne, NASA engineers were holding their breath as they watched the calendar flip to 2019 on the East Coast. That's because the New Horizons spacecraft, which has now traveled some 4 billion miles through our Solar System, finally made its flyby of the most distant object ever studied up close.

The probe's target was the oblong space rock known as Ultima Thule, and even though the spacecraft passed the massive rock at around midnight EST, NASA had to wait another ten hours before they even knew if the probe performed as planned. Now, with signals finally coming back from New Horizons, NASA can rest easy.

In a lengthy update by the New Horizons team, the group boasts that New Horizons sent back a signal to its handlers letting them know that it had filled its on-board recorders with a wealth of science data that it collected as it zoomed past Ultima Thule.

"New Horizons performed as planned today, conducting the farthest exploration of any world in history — 4 billion miles from the Sun," New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern said in a statement. "The data we have look fantastic and we're already learning about Ultima from up close. From here out the data will just get better and better!"

The probe also snapped some images of the icy rock and relayed them to Earth. In an animation created by NASA using three of the images we can see the oblong shape of Ultima Thule, which NASA describes as looking like a bowling pin.

The images are obviously very low in resolution, and it's not immediately clear if or when we'll get a better glimpse of the rock, but New Horizons still has a lot of data to beam back to Earth. As NASA announced well in advance of the flyby, it's going to take months for the spacecraft to send its trickle of information back to Earth, and sciences will surely be eager to get their hands on it.



Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines

NASA’s New Horizons zoomed past Ultima Thule, and now we wait

NASA’s New Horizons zoomed past Ultima Thule, and now we waitNASA kicked off the new year with a midnight flyby of the most distant Solar System object ever visited by a manmade spacecraft. New Horizons passed within a few thousand miles of the oblong space rock known as Ultima Thule just after the calendar page turned to 2019 on the East Coast, and it's a huge achievement for the space agency and astronomy community in general.

Unfortunately, NASA has very little to show for its accomplishment, at least right now.

NASA's live stream of the event was very informative, providing details about the mission and animations to show where the spacecraft was in relation to Ultima Thule. We did not, however, get a good look at Ultima Thule itself or even confirmation that the mission was a success, so now we wait.

Our Solar System is a big place, and Ultima Thule is very far away. A live stream or even the rapid delivery of still images from the spacecraft wasn't a realistic expectation and, as NASA has already explained, it's going to take months for the probe to send back all the information it gathered during its brief rendezvous with its rocky target.

In fact, retrieving information from New Horizons is so delayed that even NASA doesn't know with certainty that the spacecraft pulled off its mission without a hitch. NASA's Deep Space Network is still relaying that information back to Earth, and it's expected to arrive by midday.

NASA already has a number of press conferences scheduled for the coming days, and we're sure to learn a lot about how well New Horizons performed and, hopefully, some new information about Ultima Thule as well. However, the real science can't begin until the probe delivers all the data it's gathered, and that could take months.



Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines

New Horizons: Nasa spacecraft makes historic flyby of Ultima Thule, four billion miles away

New Horizons: Nasa spacecraft makes historic flyby of Ultima Thule, four billion miles awayA Nasa spacecraft has conducted a historic flyby of the farthest, and quite possibly the oldest, cosmic body ever explored by humankind. The US space agency was hoping to take a closer look at a tiny, distant world called Ultima Thule early on Tuesday, hoping the frozen cosmic object will reveal some clues as to how planets took shape 4.6 billion years ago.   It rang in the New Year with a live online broadcast to mark New Horizons' zoom past the mysterious object located about four billion miles away in a dark and frigid region of space known as the Kuiper Belt. The flyby at 12.33 am on Tuesday (5.33am GMT) took place about a billion miles beyond Pluto, which was until now the most faraway world ever visited up close by a spacecraft. "Go New Horizons!" said lead scientist Alan Stern as a crowd including kids dressed in space costumes blew party horns and cheered at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland to mark the moment when the spacecraft aimed its cameras at the distant space rock. Real-time video of the actual flyby was impossible, since it takes more than six hours for a signal sent from Earth to reach the spaceship and another six hours for the response to arrive. "Anything's possible out there in this very unknown region," John Spencer, deputy project scientist for New Horizons, told reporters on Monday at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland. Brian May discusses the upcoming New Horizon's flyby of the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule Credit: Reuters A solo track recorded by legendary Queen guitarist Brian May – who also holds an advanced degree in astrophysics – was released just after midnight to accompany a video simulation as Nasa commentators describe the close pass. "This is a night none of us are going to forget," May said. What could mission reveal? Hurtling through space at a speed of 32,000 miles per hour, the spacecraft aims to make its closest approach within 2,200 miles of the surface of Ultima Thule. Dr Stern, the lead planetary scientist on the New Horizons mission, told reporters that Ultima Thule is unique because it is a relic from the early days of the solar system and could provide answers about the origins of other planets. In less than 48 hours, New Horizons will make history! The team at @JHUAPL is preparing for the #NewYears flyby of #UltimaThule, the farthest object explored by a spacecraft ever – 4 billion miles from the Sun and ~1 billion miles from Pluto. pic.twitter.com/3EiB2bmOKy— NASA New Horizons (@NASANewHorizons) December 30, 2018 Temperatures are freezing – almost absolute zero or -273C - which means scientists hope it proves to be a time capsule. "The object is in such a deep freeze that it is perfectly preserved from its original formation," he said. "Everything we are going to learn about Ultima – from its composition to its geology to how it was originally assembled, whether it has satellites and an atmosphere and those kinds of things – are going to teach us about the original formation conditions of objects in the solar system." Huge challenges The encounter itself is risky, and if the spacecraft were to collide with a speck of space debris as small as a grain of rice, it could be destroyed instantly, mission managers warned. For that reason, Dr Stern said he and his colleagues are "on pins and needles to see how this turns out." The first signal back to Earth should come about 10 hours after the flyby, around 9.45 am (1445 GMT). Only then will Nasa know if New Horizons survived the close pass. Seven instruments on board will hopefully record high-resolution images and gather data about its size and composition. The Kuiper Belt object nicknamed "Ultima Thule," indicated by the crosshairs at center, with stars surrounding it on Aug. 16, 2018 Credit: AP But the flyby will be fast – at a speed of nine miles per second. As a result, many of the pictures taken will likely be of empty space. That's because the team on the ground will be trying to capture a 12- to 22-mile-wide world some four billion miles away.  At closest approach, New Horizons is expected to take nearly 900 photos at the highest resolution – and Ultima Thule is expected to appear in a few. "We're rendezvousing with something that's a mountain draped in black velvet in almost pitch-dark conditions, and we're screaming up to it [..] within 2 seconds of perfection," Dr Stern told the Washington Post. "You can't get any better than that." Despite the tough task, the team is confident. “I think we're good,” Marc Buie, an astronomer working to pin down Ultima Thule’s position, told the New York Times. “I think we're better than good.” What does it look like?  Scientists are not sure what Ultima Thule (pronounced TOO-lee) looks like – whether it is cratered or smooth, or even if it is a single object or a cluster. It was discovered in 2014 with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, and is believed to be 12-20 miles in size. A blurred and pixelated image released on Monday, taken from 1.2 million miles away, has intrigued scientists because it appears to show an elongated blob, not a round space rock. Astronomers believe it is either made up of two objects touching each other, or perhaps even a binary system, in which two objects orbit each other. “It’s really puzzling, because we know the shape is irregular,” Dr Stern said. Even clearer images should be in hand over the next three days. Scientists decided to study it with New Horizons after the spaceship completed its main mission of flying by Pluto in 2015, returning the most detailed images ever taken of the dwarf planet. Dr Stern said the goal is to take images of Ultima that are three times the resolution the team had for Pluto. Launched in January 2006, New Horizons embarked on a 4 billion mile journey toward the solar system's frigid, faraway edge to study the dwarf planet Pluto and its five moons. During a 2015 fly-by, the probe found Pluto to be slightly larger than previously thought. In March, it revealed that methane-rich dunes were on the icy dwarf planet's surface. Frontier of planetary science Ultima Thule is named for a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and cartography, according to Nasa. "Ultima Thule means ’beyond Thule’ – beyond the borders of the known world – symbolising the exploration of the distant Kuiper Belt and Kuiper Belt objects that New Horizons is performing, something never before done," the US space agency said in a statement. According to project scientist Hal Weaver of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, humans didn’t even know the Kuiper Belt – a vast ring of relics from the formation days of the solar system – existed until the 1990s. "This is the frontier of planetary science," said Weaver. "We finally have reached the outskirts of the solar system, these things that have been there since the beginning and have hardly changed – we think. We will find out." New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern speaks during an overview of the New Horizons Mission Credit: Getty In an editorial in The New York Times, Dr Stern recalled that December 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the first time humans ever explored another world, when US astronauts orbited the Moon aboard Apollo 8. "New Horizons will continue in that legacy," Dr Stern wrote. "As you celebrate New Year’s Day, cast an eye upward and think for a moment about the amazing things our country and our species can do when we set our minds to it." Listen to Brian May's new music The Queen guitarist  is releasing his first official solo work in two decades to mark the occasion. May, who is as passionate about science as he is about music, said he didn't know if "anyone's going to like it yet". Dr Stern, who first suggested creating the track, was among the few who had listened to it. “I have been bouncing it off Alan all the way," he told Newsweek. "He's made some comments – some very interesting comments, because of course he comes from a completely different world from me. And he's been liking it, which is great. “I find myself in an unusual place because I’m deeply immersed in music – and have been all my life – but I’m also deeply immersed in astronomy and astrophysics.” Creating a single inspired by the New Horizons probe was “an amazing opportunity for me to combine the two,” May added. Woven into the recording are words from Stephen Hawking, including a message from the scientist to the New Horizons team in 2015 after the successful Pluto mission. “He said exactly what was in my mind,” May said. “In another part of his message – which actually nobody has heard yet – he said, ‘we do this because we are human and because we need to know.'" What comes next? The huge trove of data that New Horizons sends back is hoped to keep scientists busy for the next one and a half years.  But its journey is far from over – barring any disasters.  Nasa is hoping New Horizons can go on to investigate other objects in the Kuiper Belt. "The spacecraft is very healthy, it's not using any of its back-up systems and it has power and fuel to operate for close to 20 more years," Dr Stern said. "There's a lot of future exploration ahead for New Horizons."



Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines

Nasa sends final commands to New Horizons probe before historic flyby of Ultima Thule

Nasa sends final commands to New Horizons probe before historic flyby of Ultima ThuleNasa flight controllers have sent their final set of commands to the space agency’s New Horizons spacecraft ahead of its planned historic flyby of the icy Ultima Thule. The spacecraft is on a path to pass by the 30-kilometre-wide body on Tuesday, marking a new record for the furthest object ever explored in the Solar System — roughly 6.5 billion kilometres from the Earth. “The spacecraft is healthy and we’re excited!” Alice Bowman, the mission operations manager, told reporters at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Maryland.



Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines

Watch NASA’s New Horizons flyby live stream right here

Watch NASA’s New Horizons flyby live stream right hereNASA is celebrating the new year in the best way it knows how, and that just so happens to be with a live stream. Scientists and engineers will have to hold off on popping their champagne cork just a little longer than usual as they wait for the New Horizons space probe to make history, and you can watch it live. The New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled to fly by the most distant Solar System object ever visited, a large rock in the Kuiper belt known as Ultima Thule, at right around midnight, eastern time. NASA will be streaming a feed of mission control, complete with commentary and real time animations of where the probe is in relation to the massive space rock. www.youtube.com/watch?v=21X5lGlDOfg NASA's stream will be broadcast via its YouTube channel, which you can watch above. Here's the full lineup of events, via NASA: Monday, December 31

* 2 p.m.: New Horizons media briefing and spacecraft final approach before flyby of Ultima Thule
* 3 p.m.: Q&A with the New Horizons Team
* 8 p.m.: Panel Discussion: New Horizons Flyby of Ultima Thule

Tuesday, Jan. 1

* 12:15 a.m.: New Horizons flyby of Ultima Thule, a Kuiper belt object.
* 9:45 a.m.:  New Horizons Signal Acquisition from Ultima Thule Flyby (All Channels)
* 11:30 a.m.: New Horizons Post-Flyby Press Conference

NASA will also be holding a number of press conferences on Wednesday and Thursday to reveal information they've gathered in the time since the flyby. We're sure to learn some interesting things about Ultima Thule this week, but the bulk of the data the spacecraft collects won't be available for researchers to study until later. New Horizons will begin transferring that data a little later, sending the information back over the course of several months throughout 2019. As scientists dive deep into those numbers we'll likely know more about what Ultima Thule is like, how it formed, and perhaps what factors contributed to its current status tumbling through our Solar System's belt of debris.



Yahoo News – Latest News & Headlines