New New Horizons Kuiper Object Photograph

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NASA’s New Horizons space ship has photographed the farthest thing away shown in an actual photograph where you go up to the thing and take a picture (as opposed to looking far away with a telescope or something).

It is an object in the Kuiper Belt. The first shot is shown below on the left, and then, up close… you can really kinda see something:

Just over 24 hours before its closest approach to Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule, the New Horizons spacecraft has sent back the first images that begin to reveal Ultima’s shape. The original images have a pixel size of 6 miles (10 kilometers), not much smaller than Ultima’s estimated size of 20 miles (30 kilometers), so Ultima is only about 3 pixels across (left panel). However, image-sharpening techniques combining multiple images show that it is elongated, perhaps twice as long as it is wide (right panel). This shape roughly matches the outline of Ultima’s shadow that was seen in observations of the object passing in front of a star made from Argentina in 2017 and Senegal in 2018. (NASA)

In just a handful of hours, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will perform the furthest encounter of an object in our solar system. On Jan. 1 at 12:33 a.m., New Horizons is set to fly by 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule, and collect images and scientific data to beam back to Earth. Ultima orbits the Sun from a vast region of icy and rocky bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune. Studying this primitive world—which has been around, unaltered, since the beginning of the solar system—will provide us with vital insights into the origins and evolution of our celestial neighborhood.

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7 thoughts on “New New Horizons Kuiper Object Photograph

  1. The tale of the occultations is very cool. For their first try, they sent two teams of about 15 people each to different parts of the globe. They set up the scopes and got nothing.

    Their second chance was over water, so they used the SOFIA aircraft — and got nothing.

    For their third try, they went to South America. The sky was clear, but wind gusts kept shaking the telescopes. Local people helped out by moving in a pickup truck as a shield, and using a tarpaulin. But they got nothing. It turned out their computed position for Ultima Thule was off by 600 miles.

    Their fourth opportunity was just a week away. They scrambled to the location, set up — and got what they wanted. Crunching all that data gave them a very close idea of what Ultima Thule turned out to look like.

    You can watch all this in the Nova special.

  2. Nice to know we can spend a gazillion bucks, but get…. another pic of a rock. OK, a space rock.

    Yes, this was likely the most difficult, most technically-challenging procedure to get a picture of a rock. But, at the end of the day…..

    1. The Ultima Thule flyby was a bolt-on at the end of the New Horizons mission, which was aimed a little higher than spending a gazillion bucks to look at a space rock:

      New Science

      The National Academy of Sciences has ranked the exploration of the Kuiper Belt – including Pluto – of the highest priority for solar system exploration. Generally, New Horizons seeks to understand where Pluto and its moons “fit in” with the other objects in the solar system, such as the inner rocky planets (Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury) and the outer gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune).

      Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, belong to a third category known as “ice dwarfs.” They have solid surfaces but, unlike the terrestrial planets, a significant portion of their mass is icy material.

      Using Hubble Space Telescope images, New Horizons team members have discovered four previously unknown moons of Pluto: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos.

      A close-up look at these worlds from a spacecraft promises to tell an incredible story about the origins and outskirts of our solar system. New Horizons is exploring – for the first time – how ice dwarf planets like Pluto and Kuiper Belt bodies have evolved over time.

      But if you hate taxes and expanding the frontiers of human knowledge, I can see why you might want to whistle up the dogs over this.

  3. Most exploration is costly but there’s usually a payoff of some sort — sooner or later — that in hindsight justifies the expense. The relatively cheap exploration has already been done and now further exploration takes enough money to require government sponsorship.

    It may even take enough money that we won’t be able to build the Great Wall of America that will make us great again, or the tens of thousands of troops needed to patrol it.

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