Space Travel

A New Small Planet is About to be Explored (Hours from Now)

Happy New Year. In just a few hours we will not only have ushered in 2019, but humanity have also explored a new little world. One of the inner planetessimals, of potentially billions in our solar system beyond pluto, will get a flyby from the New Horizons spacecraft very soon. The craft will send back data after exploring a 20-mile-wide dark Planetesimal known as Ultima Thule (pronounced “two-lee”).

The fly by of Ultima on New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, at 12:33 a.m. EST. will be observable at the New Horizons website:

More details:

Check it out!

The Kuiper Belt lies in the so-called “third zone” of our solar system, beyond the terrestrial planets (inner zone) and gas giants (middle zone). This vast region contains billions of objects, including comets, dwarf planets like Pluto and “planetesimals” like Ultima Thule. The objects in this region are believed to be frozen in time — relics left over from the formation of the solar system.

“From Ultima’s orbit, we know that it is the most primordial object ever explored. I’m excited to see the surface features of this small world, particularly the craters on the surface,” said Deputy Project Scientist Cathy Olkin, of SwRI.

“Young craters could provide a window to see the composition of the subsurface of Ultima. Also by counting the number and impactors that have hit Ultima, we can learn about the number of small objects in the outer solar system.” …

From its brightness and size, New Horizons team members have calculated Ultima’s reflectivity, which is only about 10 percent, or about as dark as garden dirt. Beyond that, nothing else is known about it — basic facts like its rotational period and whether or not it has moons are unknown.

“All that is about to dramatically change on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, also of SwRI. “New Horizons will map Ultima, map its surface composition, determine how many moons it has and find out if it has rings or even an atmosphere. It will make other studies, too, such as measuring Ultima’s temperature and perhaps even its mass. In the space of one 72-hour period, Ultima will be transformed from a pinpoint of light — a dot in the distance — to a fully explored world. It should be breathtaking!”

Read more: SciDaily

Occurring some 6.5 billion km (4 billion miles) from Earth, the flyby will set a new record for the most distant ever exploration of a Solar System object by a spacecraft.

New Horizons will gather a swathe of images and other data over the course of just a few hours leading up to and beyond the closest approach.

This is timed for 05:33 GMT.

At that moment, the probe will be about 3,500km from Ultima’s surface and moving at 14km/s.

via YouTube

Ultima is supposedly dark and somewhat red, but soon we will know much more.

Queen fans may be excited that Brian May, guitarist of the super group who is also a contributing scientist for New Horizons, will release some new music titled “New Horizons (Ultima Thule Mix)” as well. Update: And here it is… although it won’t play and says “465 Waiting”… with the number going up and down a bit each time I reload it. I’ve never seen such a thing. Am I number 465 in line?

YouTube could be overwhelmed to the point where they can’t handle the traffic to this video. The likes are nearly at 2K now… no, wait, now at 3.2K. Finally got in, sounds great!

Wishing you (and all undiscovered planets) the very best in 2019.

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