December 31, 2018, NASA's New Horizons The mission made history by being the first spacecraft to rendezvous with Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) called Ultima Thule (2014 MU69). This came about two and a half years later New Horizons became the first mission in history to carry out a flying village of Pluto. This latest meeting led to some amazing images of the KBO as the spacecraft made it approach.
But of course it wasn't the last pictures New Horizons would catch this item. While the spacecraft took its flyby by Ultima Thule on New Year's Day, the spacecraft took a number of pictures that revealed something very interesting about Ultima Thule's form. Instead of being composed of two spheres that unite, Ultima Thule actually consists of two segments – one that looks like a pancake, the other a walnut.
These images represent the final appearance as New Horizons Spacecraft had Ultima Thule (officially designated 2014 MU69) as it raced over the item on January 1, 2019. They were taken almost ten minutes after New Horizons did his closest approach to the object while traveling at speeds above 50,0000 km / h.
As Alan Stern, the mission's main researcher at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), in a recent press release from John Hopkins University, said Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL):
"This really is an incredible sequence of images taken by a spacecraft that explores a small world four billion miles away from Earth. No such thing has ever been taken in pictures."
The newly released images revealed important scientific information about Ultima Thule, especially its true form. The first close-ups of Ultima Thule showed that the object was composed of two spherical segments, which had people calling it a "snowman". However, further analysis of these images and the new departure image has led the researchers to think about it.
For one, the imagery images were taken from a different angle than the approaches, revealing additional information about KBO's form. The New Horizons Teams also combined 14 of the flyby images into a short movie, enabling them to confirm that the two "lobes" by Ultima Thule are not spherical.
While the larger lobe ("Ultima") resembles a giant pancake, the smaller lobe ("Thule") is shaped like a walnut. As Stern put it:
"We had an impression of Ultima Thule based on the limited number of pictures that returned in the days around flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our perception. It would be closer to reality to say that Ultima Thule's form is narrower, like a pancake. But more importantly, the new images create scientific puzzles about how such an object could also be formed. We have never seen anything that revolves against the sun. "
Secondly, the new analysis succeeded in tracking the part of Ultima Thule that was not illuminated by the sun, but which could be identified by blocking the background stars. While the illuminated crescent was blurred in the individual frames due to the relatively long exposure time, the science team was combined and processed to sharpen the thin crescent.
The science team was then able to compare their analysis with a model collected from analyzing pre-flyby images and ground-based telescope observations. "The form model we have derived from all existing Ultima Thule images is remarkably consistent with what we have learned from the new crescent images," says Simon Porter. New Horizons co-researchers from SwRI, who leads the form modeling work.
As Hal Weaver, a New Horizon project researcher from JHUAPL, summarized:
"While the nature of a fast airbase in some ways limits how well we can determine Ultima Thule's true form, the new results clearly show that Ultima and Thule are much flatter than originally thought, and much narrower than expected. This will undoubtedly justify new theories. about planetesimal formation in the early solar system. "
Apart from being a historic first, it New HorizonsExtended assignment to study KBOs also represents a unique scientific opportunity. By studying objects that remain from the formation of the solar system, the researchers hope more about how our solar system was formed and developed over time. The fact that at least one of these objects has such an interesting shape is likely to lead to some interesting conclusions!
And be sure to check out this video showing the updated model of Ultima Thule, licensed by NASA Video:
Additional reading: JHUAPL