How to watch NASA's New Year's date with distant space rock


spaminator
#1
How to watch NASA's New Year's date with distant space rock
Washington Post
Published:
December 31, 2018
Updated:
December 31, 2018 4:52 PM EST
This illustration provided by NASA shows the New Horizons spacecraft. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI via AP)
To ancient explorers, “Ultima Thule” was what lay past the northernmost edges of maps, beyond the borders of the known world.
So when NASA chose a target for its New Horizons spacecraft that was farther than anything explored before, “Ultima Thule” seemed a fitting moniker. The far-flung space rock is an inhabitant of the Kuiper Belt, the ring of debris that encircles the icy outer reaches of solar system.
Ultima Thule is so dim and so distant that scientists aren’t even certain what it looks like. Some of their only information about its size and shape comes from a series of coordinated observations last summer, when astronomers measured the shadow it cast as it passed in front of a star.
This composite image made available by NASA shows the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed “Ultima Thule,” indicated by the crosshairs at centre, with stars surrounding it on Aug. 16, 2018, made by the New Horizons spacecraft. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute via AP) ORG XMIT: NY343
But New Horizons will finally fly by its target just after midnight on Jan. 1, taking close-up photographs and sophisticated scientific measurements of what it sees. By the time the first images and data stream back to Earth, the borders of the known world will have expand once more.
“This is just raw exploration,” said Alan Stern, a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute and the principal investigator for the mission. “No one has ever seen a Kuiper Belt object as anything but a point of light. No one has ever seen an object that’s frozen almost to absolute zero. There are a lot ideas and every one of them might be wrong.”
He took a breath. “We’ll find out Tuesday.”
NASA is celebrating the record-setting encounter with the solar system’s nerdiest New Year’s party. At the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which built and operates the spacecraft, scientists will count down to the moment of New Horizons’ closest approach, at 12:33 a.m. Eastern, then reconvene 10 hours later to watch first signals from the flyby stream onto their screens. (It takes more than six hours for light to travel from Ultima Thule back to Earth.)
NASA’s vaunted social media operation, which had fallen silent during the partial government shutdown, has been temporarily restored to cover the event. The countdown, signal acquisition and subsequent news conferences will be streamed live on NASA TV and YouTube.
Alice Bowman, New Horizons’ mission operations manager at APL, said the spacecraft entered “encounter mode” on Wednesday. This configuration limits the spacecraft’s communication with Earth, commanding it to quickly address any technical issues on its own, then get back to science. Though nerve-wracking for engineers, encounter mode ensures that New Horizons makes the most of its brief time near Ultima Thule.
“Because this is a flyby, we only get one chance to get it right,” Bowman said.
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New Horizons left Earth in January 2006; it was the first mission designed to explore the most distant part of the solar system. Nine years and 3.5 billion miles later, it took the first-ever close up photos of Pluto, revealing a complex and colorful world mottled with methane mountains and a vast, heart-shaped nitrogen ice plain.
After that flyby, Stern and his colleagues set about searching for a new target in the Kuiper Belt, which extends from the edge of Neptune’s orbit out to about 5 billion miles from the sun.
Until the 1990s, no one knew what hid out here, where sunlight is 0.05 as faint as it is on Earth. Now, the Kuiper Belt is thought to include millions of icy objects, unused planetary building blocks left over from the earliest days of the solar system. These bodies are time capsules, preserved in a deep freeze for the past 4.6 billion years. NASA says Ultima Thule is likely the most primitive planetary object ever explored.
The Kuiper Belt object was discovered with the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014. Subsequent observations suggest it is small — no more 20 miles across — and peanut shaped. Astronomers believe it is a contact binary, comprising two objects touching each other, or perhaps even a binary system, in which two objects are orbiting one another.
The encounter with Ultima Thule will be brief and technically demanding, even more so than New Horizons’ Pluto flyby. Whereas Pluto is roughly the size of the United States, Ultima could fit atop Washington, D.C. This means New Horizons has to get much closer to the little space rock to examine it, and the encounter will be over much more quickly.
Twenty-four hours before closest approach, Ultima Thule still takes up only two pixels in images taken by New Horizons’ camera screen. As New Horizons speeds through space at 9 miles per second, it will take less than a day to turn Ultima Thule back into a speck in the rear view mirror.
But New Horizons’ performance so far suggests it is ready for the challenge, Stern said. Measurements taken Saturday showed that the spacecraft was within 20 miles of its intended flyby distance from Ultima Thule, and that the timing of the encounter will be within 2 seconds of what was expected.
“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,” Stern said. “You can’t get any better than that.”

http://torontosun.com/news/world/how...ant-space-rock
 
MHz
+1
#2  Top Rated Post
I wonder how a price can be found for all there 'incredibly valuable' animations?
 
spaminator
#3
NASA's New Horizons marks new year with most distant flyby
Associated Press
Published:
January 2, 2019
Updated:
January 2, 2019 8:50 AM EST
LAUREL, Md. — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft pulled off the most distant exploration of another world Tuesday, skimming past a tiny, icy object 4 billion miles from Earth that looks to be shaped like a bowling pin.
Flight controllers in Maryland declared success 10 hours after the high-risk, middle-of-the-night encounter at the mysterious body known as Ultima Thule on the frozen fringes of our solar system, an astounding 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometres) beyond Pluto.
“I don’t know about all of you, but I’m really liking this 2019 thing so far,” lead scientist Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute said to applause. “I’m here to tell you that last night, overnight, the United States spacecraft New Horizons conducted the farthest exploration in the history of humankind, and did so spectacularly.”
The close approach came a half-hour into the new year, and 3 1/2 years after New Horizons’ unprecedented swing past Pluto.
For Ultima Thule — which wasn’t even known when New Horizons departed Earth in 2006 — the endeavour was more difficult. The spacecraft zoomed within 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometres) of it, more than three times closer than the Pluto flyby.
Operating on autopilot, New Horizons was out of radio contact with controllers at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory from late Monday afternoon until late Tuesday morning. Scientists wanted the spacecraft staring down Ultima Thule and collecting data, not turning toward Earth to phone home.
FILE – This illustration provided by NASA shows the New Horizons spacecraft. NASA launched the probe in 2006; it’s about the size of a baby grand piano. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is set to fly past the mysterious object nicknamed Ultima Thule at 12:33 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI via AP) AP
Mission operations manager Alice Bowman said she was more nervous this time than she was with Pluto in 2015 because of the challenges and distance, so vast that messages take more than six hours, one way, to cross the 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometres). When a solid radio link finally was acquired and team members reported that their spacecraft systems were green, or good, she declared with relief: “We have a healthy spacecraft.” Later, she added to more applause: “We did it again.”
Cheers erupted in the control centre and in a nearby auditorium, where hundreds more — still weary from the double countdowns on New Year’s Eve — gathered to await word. Scientists and other team members embraced and shared high-fives, while the spillover auditorium crowd gave a standing ovation.
Stern, Bowman and other key players soon joined their friends in the auditorium, where the celebration continued and a news conference took place. The speakers took delight in showing off the latest picture of Ultima Thule , taken just several hundred-thousand miles (1 million kilometres) before the 12:33 a.m. close approach.
“Ultima Thule is finally revealing its secrets to us,” said project scientist Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins.
Based on the early, rudimentary images, Ultima Thule is highly elongated — about 20 miles by 10 miles (32 kilometres by 16 kilometres). It’s also spinning end over end, although scientists don’t yet know how fast.
As for its shape, scientists say there are two possibilities.
Ultima Thule is either one object with two connected lobes, sort of like a spinning bowling pin or peanut still in the shell, or two objects orbiting surprisingly close to one another. A single body is more likely, they noted. An answer should be forthcoming Wednesday, once better, closer pictures arrive.
By week’s end, “Ultima Thule is going to be a completely different world, compared to what we’re seeing now,” Weaver noted.
Still, the best colour close-ups won’t be available until February. Those images should reveal whether Ultima Thule has any rings or moons, or craters on its dark, reddish surface. Altogether, it will take nearly two years for all of New Horizons’ data to reach Earth.
The observations should help scientists ascertain how deep-freeze objects like Ultima Thule formed, along with the rest of the solar system, 4.5 billion years ago.
As a preserved relic from that original time, Ultima Thule also promises to shed light on the so-called Kuiper Belt, or Twilight Zone, in which hundreds of thousands of objects reside well beyond Neptune.
“This mission’s always been about delayed gratification,” Stern reminded reporters. He noted it took 12 years to sell the project, five years to build it and nine years to reach the first target, Pluto.
Its mission now totalling $800 million, the baby grand piano-sized New Horizons will keep hurtling toward the edge of the solar system, observing Kuiper Belt Objects, or KBOs, from afar, and taking cosmic particle measurements. Although NASA’s Voyagers crossed the Kuiper Belt on their way to true interstellar space, their 1970s-era instruments were not nearly as sophisticated as those on New Horizons, Weaver noted, and the twin spacecraft did not pass near any objects known at the time.
The New Horizons team is already pushing for another flyby in the 2020s, while the nuclear power and other spacecraft systems are still good.
Bowman takes comfort and pleasure in knowing that long after New Horizons stops working, it “will keep going on and on.”
“There’s a bit of all of us on that spacecraft,” she said, “and it will continue after we’re long gone here on Earth.”
——
The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=z_L27EA5XrA
http://youtube.com/watch?v=153wyoIxh4I
http://torontosun.com/news/world/nas...-distant-flyby
 
MHz
#4
Nice to see how clear the pics of the object will be. This is way better than the moon cameras. . . . . should show up any minute now, . . .
 
MHz
#5
WTFuk was that?? I have to admit I went with the size of his bonus check as being the reason for the first guy being 'the way he is' rather than the photo being the whole deal.
 
spaminator
#6
Lights, camera, action! Tumbling space snowman makes film debut
Associated Press
Published:
January 15, 2019
Updated:
January 15, 2019 7:26 PM EST
This combination of images provided by NASA shows a series of photographs made by the New Horizons spacecraft as it approached the Kuiper belt object Ultima Thule on Jan. 1, 2019. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute via AP)
WASHINGTON — The tumbling space snowman is making its out-of-this-world film premiere.
Scientists from NASA’s New Horizons mission on Tuesday released the first stitched together animation of Ultima Thule, the most distant object ever explored by humans.
The small, icy object is shown spinning end-over-end like a propeller. It is about 4 billion miles from Earth and looks like a reddish snowman with two fused-together spheres, extending about 21 miles (33 kilometres) in length.
The movie was put together from photos taken New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as the spacecraft made its closest approach, but not sent back to Earth until the last few days. The same spacecraft explored Pluto in 2015.
Ultima Thule rotates about every 16 hours so the time-lapsed movie shows seven of those hours.

http://torontosun.com/news/weird/lig...kes-film-debut