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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."



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8 Ways to Earn Miles Without an Airline Credit Card

8 Ways to Earn Miles Without an Airline Credit CardAirline credit cards are a great way to earn miles with your favorite frequent flyer program. You can get miles if you provide your frequent flyer number when you book your trip and pay out of pocket. Each airline has a different rate for which you’ll earn miles, and how much you earn can depend on your status with the airline, the type of fare, the ticketing airline and the operating airline.



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Evidence in Case of Missing Colorado Mother Found 800 Miles Away in Idaho

Evidence in Case of Missing Colorado Mother Found 800 Miles Away in IdahoPolice investigating the disappearance of a 29-year-old Colorado woman have revealed they found evidence in Idaho – nearly 800 miles away from her home.



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Orca mother ends 'tour of grief' for her newborn after 17 days and 1,000 miles

Orca mother ends 'tour of grief' for her newborn after 17 days and 1,000 milesFor 17 days, a southern resident killer whale (SRKW) named J35, but better known as Tahlequah, carried her deceased baby for more than 1,000 miles. The orca's unusually long spell of grieving came to an end on Saturday, when Tahlequah was spotted in the Haro Strait off Victoria, British Columbia, chasing a school of salmon without her newborn. SEE ALSO: New dolphin-whale hybrid sea creature is the spawn of an unholy union "Her tour of grief is now over and her behavior is remarkably frisky," the Center for Whale Research (CWR) explained in a blog post online. August 11, 2018 J35 update: "The ordeal of J35 carrying her dead calf for at least seventeen days and 1,000 miles is now over, thank goodness." – Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale t.co/kQpA4WWbmg pic.twitter.com/cQIN13HgN6 — Whale Research (@CWROrcas) August 12, 2018 The CWR added that the baby's carcass has probably sunk to the bottom of the Salish Sea, meaning that researchers may not get a chance to examine it. On Jul. 24, Tahlequah's baby orca died shortly after birth, in what has been a common story for the southern resident killer whale population.  Over the last two decades, 75 percent of SRKW newborns failed to survive. The last successful birth was in 2015, when two calves were born. In the hours, then days after the death, Tahlequah was spotted trying to keep her baby's head above the water's surface, reluctant to leave the body behind. "That's not unprecedented, but it’s the longest one that I’ve personally witnessed," Ken Balcomb, CWR's founder and principal investigator, told
The Washington Post. These orcas are facing a real threat of extinction, with no successful pregnancies in the last three years. At just 75 whales, the population is at its lowest in 30 years. The SRKW's decline is linked to the reduction in population of its primary food source, Chinook salmon. Canada's government announced in May it would cut the allowable catch of Chinook by up to 35 percent to help protect the orca. WATCH: This tiny robotic spider might one day perform surgeries inside your body



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Wildfire smoke from California has reached New York City, 3,000 miles away

Wildfire smoke from California has reached New York City, 3,000 miles awayAnthony Wexler, the director of the Air Quality Research Center at the University of California, Davis, packed his bags and drove his family out to the coast.  They're escaping the smoke. Davis, California, sits amid a layer of wildfire smoke in Northern California. To the northwest, the largest fire in state history, the Mendocino Complex Fire, continues to burn. To the southeast, the Ferguson Fire has closed down smoke-choked Yosemite National Park indefinitely. And to the North, the Carr Fire, infamous for its towering fire tornado, still burns.  SEE ALSO: California just had its hottest month on record, and that means more wildfires The air quality in the region around the fires — whose spread has been enhanced by extreme heat parching the land — is some of the worst in the world.  "I decided to go out to the coast for a couple days because it was so ridiculous," Wexler said.  On Wednesday, the National Weather Service illustrated how winds have lifted bounties of smoke across the entire U.S., bringing pollution even beyond the East Coast.  Smoke from the western fires is making it all the way to the East Coast and beyond (at least aloft—mostly above a mile above the surface). Here's the vertically integrated smoke (HRRR model from last night). Another map showed some smoke near the surface even in New England. pic.twitter.com/0Jl6WDAFjg — NWS San Diego (@NWSSanDiego) August 8, 2018 That said, it's not as if these smoke particles are harmful to those on the East Coast. By the time that smoke arrives in Boston and New York, the particles have been diluted with fresh air, and certainly can't be seen, nor are concentrations unhealthy. It's normal for pollution to waft from west to east across the country, just like pollution from China is regularly transported over the Pacific Ocean into the U.S. That's how air generally moves over the Northern Hemisphere, said Wexler. But it's much rarer for even low concentrations of smoke to find their way across the nation. "It doesn’t happen every day," Gabriele Pfister, deputy director of the National Center of Atmospheric Research’s atmospheric chemistry lab, said in an interview. "But, it can happen."  "Normally, the pollution isn’t so great that it’s noticeable when it gets east," added Wexler. This isn't stratus this morning looking west from the @LickObservatory, it's smoke. #CAwx pic.twitter.com/dcAMDwShCG — NWS Bay Area (@NWSBayArea) August 7, 2018 But just how bad is the air pollution in large regions of the West? "It's been like a reasonably decent day in Beijing," said Wexler. "That's really telling. It’s really awful there." "It’s unbelievable," said Pfister.  She noted that planes flying over the area, as part of a National Science Foundation-funded wildfire study, have picked up some alarming pollution numbers.  It's expected that particulate matter — tiny fragments of pollution 30 times thinner than a human hair — would be bad. But the flights even picked up abnormally high concentrations of carbon monoxide, an odorless gas that can be dangerous to human health in enclosed spaces, and at worse, lethal. However, some of the measured values around the fires are about 5 parts per million, or ppm, which are not considered nearly dangerous — but it's still telling.  The amount of smoke over the West tonight is nothing short of astounding. pic.twitter.com/Mya0rZauMl — Dan Satterfield (@wildweatherdan) August 8, 2018 "These are values you don’t typically find near the surface in the U.S.," said Pfister. "Maybe you’ll find that if you stick your head into the exhaust of a car." It's not carbon monoxide, however, that people in burning regions need to be concerned about. One of the main factors that's figured into air quality ratings is particulate matter.  Both U.S. government and university researchers have repeatedly shown that breathing this stuff is bad for your heart, as it accelerates plaque build-up in blood vessels.   In some areas of Oregon, the Air Quality Index currently registers as "Hazardous." In Redding, California, where a fire tornado spun for 80 minutes last week, the air quality is rated as "Unhealthy." But out near the windswept coast, like in San Francisco, the air quality is "Good." Here is what the #smoke looked like over the Central Valley and affecting #AirQuality today. Deep smoke up to 10,000 feet AGL with multiple layers of smoke caused by transport of different #wildfire plumes. Thanks to @MBrewerWX @weather_jack #MendocinoComplexFire #CarrFire pic.twitter.com/aOlNqLLJNV — SJSU FireWeatherLab (@FireWeatherLab) August 9, 2018 It's likely that the West will be intermittently blanketed in unhealthy to hazardous air for months ahead, as the fire season is not nearly over.  Rains aren't expected for months, and more temperature and fire records might be broken. Many Westerners aren't near the fires themselves. But it's harder to outrun the smoke. "In my experience, it's never been this bad," said Wexler.  WATCH: A tick is spreading and making people allergic to beef



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Ruthie Ann Miles Returns to Work After Losing Her Unborn Baby and the Car Crash Death of Daughter

Ruthie Ann Miles Returns to Work After Losing Her Unborn Baby and the Car Crash Death of DaughterRuthie Ann Miles is returning to the stage after a car crash took the life of her 5-year-old daughter and just weeks after she lost her unborn baby



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Woman Mauled By Bear in Montana Walks Miles to Safety With Skull Fracture

Woman Mauled By Bear in Montana Walks Miles to Safety With Skull FractureA 28-year-old woman who finally earned her “dream job” working as a grizzly bear researcher is now recovering in the hospital from serious injuries after she was attacked by one of the powerful animals



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Broadway Star Ruthie Ann Miles Loses Unborn Baby After Horrific Crash

Broadway Star Ruthie Ann Miles Loses Unborn Baby After Horrific CrashTony Award winner Ruthie Ann Blumenstein, who goes by the stage name Ruthie



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Broadway Star Ruthie Ann Miles Loses Unborn Baby After Horrific Crash

Broadway Star Ruthie Ann Miles Loses Unborn Baby After Horrific CrashTony Award winner Ruthie Ann Blumenstein, who goes by the stage name Ruthie



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Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Eruption Could Hurl Boulders the Size of Refrigerators Miles Into the Air

Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Eruption Could Hurl Boulders the Size of Refrigerators Miles Into the AirExperts fear it could hurl ash and boulders the size of refrigerators miles into the air



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