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posted by Fnord666 on Saturday February 10 2018, @05:51AM   Printer-friendly
from the picture-this dept.

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

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New Horizons Measures the Brightness of Galaxies Before Going Into Hibernation 7 comments

NASA's New Horizons probe has measured the "cosmic optical background" using its LORRI instrument:

Images taken by NASA's New Horizons mission on its way to Pluto, and now the Kuiper Belt, have given scientists an unexpected tool for measuring the brightness of all the galaxies in the universe, said a Rochester Institute of Technology researcher in a paper published this week in Nature Communications.

[...] "This result shows some of the promise of doing astronomy from the outer solar system," Zemcov said. "What we're seeing is that the optical background is completely consistent with the light from galaxies and we don't see a need for a lot of extra brightness; whereas previous measurements from near the Earth need a lot of extra brightness. The study is proof that this kind of measurement is possible from the outer solar system, and that LORRI is capable of doing it." Spacecraft in the outer solar system give scientists virtual front-row seats for observing the cosmic optical background. The faint light from distant galaxies is hard to see from the inner solar system because it is polluted by the brightness of sunlight reflected off interplanetary dust in the inner solar system.

New Horizons was put into hibernation mode on April 7th. The spacecraft is more than half-way to its next destination, 2014 MU69, which it will reach around January 1st, 2019:

Measurement of the cosmic optical background using the long range reconnaissance imager on New Horizons (open, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15003) (DX)

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New Horizons Target 2014 MU69 May be a "Contact Binary" 10 comments

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.

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New Horizons Flyby Plan Finalized; Pluto Features Named 6 comments

The New Horizons spacecraft will fly closer to the Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69 than it did to Pluto in 2015. 2014 MU69 is thought to be a binary pair or contact binary:

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.


Previously: Occultations of New Horizons' Next Target (2014 MU69) Observed
New Horizons Target 2014 MU69 May be a "Contact Binary"

Original Submission

Tiny Moon Possibly Orbiting 2014 MU69 7 comments

2014 MU69, which is still thought to be a contact binary or binary object, may also have a tiny moon (although additional observations are needed):

The object, known as 2014 MU69, is small, no more than 20 miles wide [30-40 km], but planetary scientists hope that it will turn out to be an ancient and pristine fragment from the earliest days of the solar system.

The moon, if it exists, might be about three miles [~5 km] wide, circling at a distance of about 120 miles [~190 km] from MU69, completing an orbit every two to four weeks, estimated Marc W. Buie, an astronomer at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

He cautioned that the findings were tentative. "The story could change next week," he said.

Dr. Buie and others working on NASA's New Horizons mission provided an update on Tuesday at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union meeting here.

New Horizons is set to fly closer to 2014 MU69 than it did to Pluto (~3,500 km vs. 12,472 km). Flyby or collision course?

Voting for a possible new name for the object has been closed. Mjölnir (Thor's hammer) got the most votes. That name could fit the shape of 2014 MU69 somewhat.

Also at Sky & Telescope, Science News, and BBC.

Original Submission

New Horizons Spacecraft Will Take a "Pale Blue Dot" Photo in 2019 14 comments

Recently, the New Horizons spacecraft took the furthest images ever made from Earth. But they weren't of Earth. That could change in 2019:

Sometime after January 2019, New Horizons, the spacecraft that brought us photos of the heart-shaped terrain on Pluto, will turn back toward Earth. The probe's camera, the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager, or LORRI for short, will start snapping away. Nearly three decades after the original, humanity will get another "Pale Blue Dot."

"We've been talking about it for years," says Andy Cheng of the plan to take another 'Pale Blue Dot' image. Cheng is a scientist at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory and the principal investigator for LORRI.

It's a risky move. The attempt requires pointing LORRI close enough to the sun so that objects in the darkness are illuminated, but not so close that sunlight damages or destroys the camera. "But we're going to do it anyway, for the same reason as before," Cheng says. "It's just such a great thing to try."

The photo shoot will take considerable coordination. "All activities on the spacecraft need to be choreographed in elaborate detail and then checked and checked again," Cheng says. "Taking a LORRI image involves more than just LORRI—the spacecraft needs to point the camera in the right direction, lorri needs to be operated, the image data needs to be put in the right place and then accessed and transmitted to Earth, which requires more maneuvers of the spacecraft, all of which needs to happen on a spacecraft almost 4 billion miles away."

New Horizons will fly by 2014 MU69 on January 1, 2019. It will take about 18 months to send back all the data from the flyby.

Related: Occultations of New Horizons' Next Target (2014 MU69) Observed
New Horizons Target 2014 MU69 May be a "Contact Binary"

Original Submission

CubeSats -- En Route to Mars with InSight -- Snap Another "Pale Blue Dot" Image 2 comments

First CubeSats to travel the solar system snap 'Pale Blue Dot' homage:

The Insight launch earlier this month had a couple stowaways: a pair of tiny CubeSats that are already the farthest such tiny satellites have ever been from Earth by a long shot. And one of them got a chance to snap a picture of their home planet as an homage to the Voyager mission's famous "Pale Blue Dot." It's hardly as amazing a shot as the original but it's still cool.

The CubeSats, named MarCO-A and B, are an experiment to test the suitability of pint-size craft for exploration of the solar system; previously they have only ever been deployed into orbit.

That changed on May 5, when the Insight mission took off, with the MarCO twins detaching on a similar trajectory to the geology-focused Mars lander. It wasn't long before they went farther than any CubeSat has gone before.

Pale Blue Dot.

Also at Business Insider.

Previously: NASA Launches InSight Mission to Study the Interior of Mars

Related: New Horizons Captures the Farthest Image From Earth Ever Made
New Horizons Spacecraft Will Take a "Pale Blue Dot" Photo in 2019

Original Submission

Pluto Orbiter Mission Could Use Charon Gravity Assists and Explore Elsewhere in the Kuiper Belt 7 comments

SwRI team makes breakthroughs studying Pluto orbiter mission

A Southwest Research Institute [SwRI] team using internal research funds has made several discoveries that expand the range and value of a future Pluto orbiter mission. The breakthroughs define a fuel-saving orbital tour and demonstrate that an orbiter can continue exploration in the Kuiper Belt after surveying Pluto. These and other results from the study will be reported this week at a workshop on future Pluto and Kuiper Belt exploration at the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Associate Vice President and planetary scientist Dr. Alan Stern leads the SwRI study. The team first discovered how numerous key scientific objectives can be met using gravity assists from Pluto's giant satellite, Charon, rather than propellant, allowing the orbiter to change its orbit repeatedly to investigate various aspects of Pluto, its atmosphere, its five moons, and its solar wind interactions for up to several years. The second achievement demonstrates that, upon completing its science objectives at Pluto, the orbiter can then use Charon's gravity to escape the system without using fuel, slinging the spacecraft into the Kuiper Belt to use the same electric propulsion system it used to enter Pluto orbit to then explore other dwarf planets and smaller Kuiper Belt bodies.

"This is groundbreaking," said Stern. "Previously, NASA and the planetary science community thought the next step in Kuiper Belt exploration would be to choose between 'going deep' in the study of Pluto and its moons or 'going broad' by examining smaller Kuiper Belt objects and another dwarf planet for comparison to Pluto. The planetary science community debated which was the right next step. Our studies show you can do both in a single mission: it's a game changer."

Previously: Return to Pluto?
A Return to Pluto and Other Solar System Targets

Related: New Horizons Captures the Farthest Image From Earth Ever Made
New Horizons Spacecraft Approaches 2014 MU69; OSIRIS-REx Nears 101955 Bennu

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 10 2018, @07:33AM (6 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 10 2018, @07:33AM (#635924)

    Pictures please or it didn't happen!

    • (Score: 3, Touché) by c0lo on Saturday February 10 2018, @07:53AM (5 children)

      by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Saturday February 10 2018, @07:53AM (#635928) Journal

      Nice blank NASA page

      What are yea talking about?

      Pictures please or it didn't happen!

      Here are the url-s of some pictures I copied from the NASA page: [] []
      Did it happen or not?

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 10 2018, @08:06AM (4 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 10 2018, @08:06AM (#635932)

        JavaScript is the culprit, as always. Thanks for the pics. Didn't look like much tho.

        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by takyon on Saturday February 10 2018, @01:04PM (3 children)

          by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Saturday February 10 2018, @01:04PM (#635988) Journal

          Even if the pictures look no better than what Hubble can produce, taking images of KBOs at that distance is useful since it gives another angle and can help determine their composition, presence of rings, etc. From an earlier article [] about New Horizons and Quaoar []:

          New Horizons’ location in the Kuiper Belt gives the spacecraft a uniquely oblique view of the small planets like Quaoar orbiting so far from the sun. When these images were taken, Quaoar was approximately 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) from the sun and 1.3 billion miles (2.1 billion kilometers) from New Horizons. With the oblique view available from New Horizons, LORRI sees only a portion of Quaoar’s illuminated surface, which is very different from the nearly fully illuminated view of the Kuiper Belt object from Earth. Comparing Quaoar from the two very different perspectives gives mission scientists a valuable opportunity to study the light-scattering properties of Quaoar’s surface.

          Try using when scripts break a page: [] (I'll add this to the summary)

          [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 10 2018, @08:28PM (2 children)

            by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 10 2018, @08:28PM (#636120)

            Thank for the advice.

            (better yet make it httpS)

  • (Score: 4, Informative) by YttriumOxide on Sunday February 11 2018, @06:25AM (2 children)

    by YttriumOxide (1165) on Sunday February 11 2018, @06:25AM (#636285) Homepage

    Maybe it's just because I haven't had my morning coffee yet, but talking about the Pale Blue Dot image made me think that New Horizons had been directed to snap a picture of Earth from way out in the Kuiper Belt.

    But no, it's simply that these are the farthest away from earth a camera has been while taking photos of other things. Still interesting, but kind of a let down when you're expecting a new "really distant selfie".