Category Archives: New Horizons

Ultima Thule 3D

Hopefully you have a pair of 3D glasses; if you don’t and want to improvise and have some bits of colored plastic wrap available, it’s blue on the right eye and red on the left.

You can click the image for a larger version. Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory

NASA — The 3D effects come from pairing or combining images taken at slightly different viewing angles, creating a “binocular” effect, just as the slight separation of our eyes allows us to see three-dimensionally. For the images on this page, the New Horizons team paired sets of processed images taken by the spacecraft’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at 5:01 and 5:26 Universal Time on Jan. 1, from respective distances of 17,400 miles (28,000 kilometers) and 4,100 miles (6,600 kilometers), offering respective original scales of about 430 feet (130 meters) and 110 feet (33 meters) per pixel.

The viewing direction for the earlier sequence was slightly different than the later set, which consists of the highest-resolution images obtained with LORRI. The closer view offers about four times higher resolution per pixel but, because of shorter exposure time, lower image quality. The combination, however, creates a stereo view of the object (officially named 2014 MU69) better than the team could previously create. 

“These views provide a clearer picture of Ultima Thule’s overall shape,” said mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, “including the flattened shape of the large lobe, as well as the shape of individual topographic features such as the “neck” connecting the two lobes, the large depression on the smaller lobe, and hills and valleys on the larger lobe.” 

“We have been looking forward to this high-quality stereo view since long before the flyby,” added John Spencer, New Horizons deputy project scientist from SwRI. “Now we can use this rich, three-dimensional view to help us understand how Ultima Thule came to have its extraordinary shape.”  

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The MSFC Planetary Management Office provides the NASA oversight for the New Horizons. Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, directs the mission via Principal Investigator Stern, and leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

You can see other versions including a “cross-eyed” version if you have no other way, click here.

Ultima Thule First Look – Oh My!

OUTSTANDING! What else can one say? Just outstanding. We have the first clear look at Ultima Thule.

Yes we have color too! (click the image below for a larger version)

And of course you want particulars. I wasn’t going to put up another video but you might as well get the particulars straight from John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory — really good stuff:

Ultima Thule Flyby

Here’s the video from the first part of the coverage – data acquisition.

Ultima Thule flyby signal acquisition comes first at 14:45 UT / 09:45 ET. I’ll leave the link up for the post flyby press conference a couple hours later (16:30 UT / 11:30 ET).

Note: it is 15:15 UT and the coverage is about to start.

The spacecraft has data!  Press conference in about 45 minutes @ 16:30 UTC.

 

New Horizons On Track to Ultima Thule

This update video is from a couple of days ago; there will be a press conference later today but for now everything looks good for New Horizons on its way to flyby the Kuiper Belt Object called Ultima Thule at 05:33 UT / 00:33 ET tomorrow, New Years Day! I’ll try to update after the press conference if anything substantial happens. EDIT: If you noticed the ET time-conversion, you might be scratching your head – or not. I used 12:33 ET which would be correct as probably most North Americans are concerned, but it is indeed not proper if not just plain incorrect. I’ve corrected the time to be accurate.

Happy New Year wishes to everyone and if you are celebrating please be safe!!

Ultima Thule Here We Come!

On New Year’s Day the New Horizons spacecraft will visit a very distant “worldlet” called Ultima Thule. Ultima Thule is around 4,000 million miles / 6,438 million km from the Sun and New Horizon’s was launched on 19 January 2006. The little world is so far away it takes over six hours for a radio signal to reach us – a very long journey!

Have a look at this from New Horizons / John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

We Can See Ultima Thule

New Horizon’s is four months away from the Kuiper Belt Object Ultima Thule and we are getting our first look at it thanks to the LORRI imager on board the spacecraft. New Horizons was 172 million km / 107 million miles from Ultima Thule at the time. Ultima Thule is about 1.6 billion km / 1 billion miles BEYOND Pluto!

Be sure to click the image for a larger version.

NASA: Mission team members were thrilled – if not a little surprised – that New Horizons’ telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was able to see the small, dim object while still more than 100 million miles away, and against a dense background of stars. Taken Aug. 16 and transmitted home through NASA’s Deep Space Network over the following days, the set of 48 images marked the team’s first attempt to find Ultima with the spacecraft’s own cameras.

“The image field is extremely rich with background stars, which makes it difficult to detect faint objects,” said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist and LORRI principal investigator from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “It really is like finding a needle in a haystack. In these first images, Ultima appears only as a bump on the side of a background star that’s roughly 17 times brighter, but Ultima will be getting brighter – and easier to see – as the spacecraft gets closer.”

This first detection is important because the observations New Horizons makes of Ultima over the next four months will help the mission team refine the spacecraft’s course toward a closest approach to Ultima, at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1, 2019. That Ultima was where mission scientists expected it to be – in precisely the spot they predicted, using data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope – indicates the team already has a good idea of Ultima’s orbit.

The Ultima flyby will be the first-ever close-up exploration of a small Kuiper Belt object and the farthest exploration of any planetary body in history, shattering the record New Horizons itself set at Pluto in July 2015 by about 1 billion miles. These images are also the most distant from the Sun ever taken, breaking the record set by Voyager 1’s “Pale Blue Dot” image of Earth taken in 1990. (New Horizons set the record for the most distant image from Earth in December 2017.)

“Our team worked hard to determine if Ultima was detected by LORRI at such a great distance, and the result is a clear yes,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “We now have Ultima in our sights from much farther out than once thought possible. We are on Ultima’s doorstep, and an amazing exploration awaits!”

Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Pluto’s Super Frost

Probably not many people (including me) gave much thought about an active environment on the Plutonian system, you know Pluto, Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra. Thanks to New Horizons and other missions like it, we are rewriting text books.

NASA – These jagged geological ridges are found at the highest altitudes on Pluto’s surface, near its equator, and can soar many hundreds of feet into the sky – as high as a New York City skyscraper. They are one of the most puzzling feature types on Pluto, and it now appears the blades are related to Pluto’s complex climate and geological history.

A team led by New Horizons team member Jeffrey Moore, a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, has determined that formation of the bladed terrain begins with methane freezing out of the atmosphere at extreme altitudes on Pluto, in the same way frost freezes on the ground on Earth, or even in your freezer.

“When we realized that bladed terrain consists of tall deposits of methane ice, we asked ourselves why it forms all of these ridges, as opposed to just being big blobs of ice on the ground,” said Moore. “It turns out that Pluto undergoes climate variation and sometimes, when Pluto is a little warmer, the methane ice begins to basically ‘evaporate’ away.”
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Fly Overs

There are two, first New Horizons over Pluto:

And second, a flyover of Charon:

NASA (via YouTube) – Using actual New Horizons data and digital elevation models of Pluto and its largest moon Charon, mission scientists have created flyover movies that offer spectacular new perspectives of the many unusual features that were discovered and which have reshaped our views of the Pluto system – from a vantage point even closer than the spacecraft itself.