from the no-mention-of-Mickey-or-Minnie dept.
New Horizons' highest-resolution camera, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), has imaged details as small as 600 feet (183 meters) in diameter on Pluto's surface; however, on MU69, it will be able to resolve details down to a diameter of 230 feet (70 meters).
"We're planning to fly closer to MU69 than to Pluto to get even higher resolution imagery and other datasets. The science should be spectacular," emphasized mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado.
[...] Observations of the KBO conducted in July when it passed in front of a star suggest that it could be a binary system composed of two objects or a single object with two lobes.
The International Astronomical Union has announced names for 14 features (such as craters, valleys, and mountain ranges) on Pluto:
These include Tombaugh Regio for the "heart" feature on Pluto's surface, Sputnik Planitia for the icy plain on the left side of the heart, Burney crater for a crater west of the heart, Voyager Terra for a region northwest of the heart, and several more.
[...] "The approved designations honor many people and space missions who paved the way for the historic exploration of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, the farthest worlds ever explored," Stern said.
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft changed our view of the outer solar system forever when it flew by Pluto in 2015. Now, it's on its way to the next destination: a Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known only as 2014 MU69. Although the spacecraft won't reach its target until New Year's Day in 2019, NASA is already looking ahead to learn as much about 2014 MU69 as possible, thanks to a convenient temporary alignment that recently allowed the object to pass in front of a background star.
[...] "This effort, spanning six months, three spacecraft, 24 portable ground-based telescopes, and NASA's SOFIA airborne observatory was the most challenging stellar occultation in the history of astronomy, but we did it!" said Alan Stern, the New Horizons mission principal investigator, in a press release. "We spied the shape and size of 2014 MU69 for the first time, a Kuiper Belt scientific treasure we will explore just over 17 months from now. Thanks to this success we can now plan the upcoming flyby with much more confidence."
The physical characteristics of 2014 MU69 are still unclear. It is estimated to have a diameter between 18 and 41 km, but may be composed of multiple objects.
2014 MU69, which New Horizons will fly by on January 1, 2019, appears to have an elongated shape or may be comprised of two objects:
Based on the occultation data, 2014 MU69 definitely appears to have an odd shape. In a press release, NASA officials said that it's either football shaped or a type of object called a contact binary. The size of MU69 or its components also can be determined from these data. It appears to be no more than 20 miles (30 km) long, or, if a binary, each about 9-12 miles (15-20 km) in diameter.
By comparison, Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko consists of a large lobe measuring about 4.1 × 3.3 × 1.8 km and a small lobe of about 2.6 × 2.3 × 1.8 km.
The next flyby target of the New Horizons mission (the first spacecraft to visit Pluto) is 2014 MU69. NASA is asking the public to help name it. The name(s) are unlikely to be submitted to the International Astronomical Union before the flyby on January 1, 2019, because scientists are still unsure if 2014 MU69 consists of one or more objects.
To prevent a Boaty McBoatface redux, the New Horizons team is allowing you to pick from a number of options or submit your own name for consideration by December 1st. The poll is only to gauge support; they will decide which name(s) to submit to the IAU (which could also reject the name(s)). And the binary (trinary?) status of 2014 MU69 is likely to affect the name(s) chosen. The names currently being considered are:
- Año Nuevo ("New Year" in Spanish)
- Camalor (fictional city in the Kuiper Belt)
- Chomolungma, Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest in Tibet and Nepal)
- Kibo, Mawenzi, Shira (peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro)
- Mjölnir (Thor's hammer)
- Pangu (from Chinese mythology, emerged from yin and yang)
- Peanut, Almond, Cashew (shapes for small bodies)
- Pluck & Persistence (traits of New Horizons)
- Sagittarius (constellation behind MU69/mythical centaur)
- Uluru (Ayers Rock, largest rock on Earth, an "island mountain")
- Z'ha'dum (fictional planet at the edge of the galaxy)
Also at CNET.
New Horizons has taken images of the "Wishing Well" star cluster and the Kuiper belt objects 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85 using its LORRI instrument. New Horizons was over 6.12 billion kilometers (40.9 AU) away from Earth when it took the images (archive), beating the previous record by Voyager 1:
New Horizons was even farther from home than NASA's Voyager 1 when it captured the famous "Pale Blue Dot" image of Earth. That picture was part of a composite of 60 images looking back at the solar system, on Feb. 14, 1990, when Voyager was 3.75 billion miles (6.06 billion kilometers, or about 40.5 astronomical units [AU]) from Earth. Voyager 1's cameras were turned off shortly after that portrait, leaving its distance record unchallenged for more than 27 years.
[...] During its extended mission in the Kuiper Belt, which began in 2017, New Horizons is aiming to observe at least two-dozen other KBOs, dwarf planets and "Centaurs," former KBOs in unstable orbits that cross the orbits of the giant planets. Mission scientists study the images to determine the objects' shapes and surface properties, and to check for moons and rings. The spacecraft also is making nearly continuous measurements of the plasma, dust and neutral-gas environment along its path.
Previously: New Horizons Measures the Brightness of Galaxies Before Going Into Hibernation
New Horizons Target 2014 MU69 May be a "Contact Binary"
New Horizons Flyby Plan Finalized; Pluto Features Named
Tiny Moon Possibly Orbiting 2014 MU69