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posted by martyb on Wednesday February 14 2018, @11:26AM   Printer-friendly
from the you-think-you-have-challenges-with-debugging? dept.

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

Related Stories

Occultations of New Horizons' Next Target (2014 MU69) Observed 2 comments

Astronomers have observed the tiny Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69 as it passed in front of a background star:

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.

Previously: New Horizons Measures the Brightness of Galaxies Before Going Into Hibernation


Original Submission

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.


Original Submission

New Horizons Captures the Farthest Image From Earth Ever Made 10 comments

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


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

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  • (Score: 1) by anubi on Wednesday February 14 2018, @12:16PM (2 children)

    by anubi (2828) on Wednesday February 14 2018, @12:16PM (#637566) Journal

    Wow.... Hat's off to these guys...

    That thing's so far away that it looks like it will be a 12-hour latency just to ping it.

    ( Time = Dist/c = 8E9miles/6.7E8mph [google.com] = approx 12 h )

    Then, to pick the Earth from the Sun at that distance? And actually get a pixel of Earth?

    Ummm... kinda speechless here.

    I think it would be easier to pick off a crow in Atlanta, while sitting in Los Angeles, with some sort of laser.

    --
    "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Nerdfest on Wednesday February 14 2018, @02:25PM

      by Nerdfest (80) on Wednesday February 14 2018, @02:25PM (#637589)

      easier to pick off a crow in Atlanta, while sitting in Los Angeles, with some sort of laser

      Yeah, apparently that's illegal. Don't even ask.

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by bob_super on Wednesday February 14 2018, @07:22PM

      by bob_super (1357) on Wednesday February 14 2018, @07:22PM (#637793)

      Wait ... you converted c to miles instead of converting the distance to SI ?

      Ever thought of applying for a job at NASA's martian missions?

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by b0ru on Wednesday February 14 2018, @01:40PM (1 child)

    by b0ru (6054) on Wednesday February 14 2018, @01:40PM (#637581)

    Considering our observations of other star systems, and our discovery of so many exoplanets, it might not be the farthest image of our planet, the Earth, or even close!

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by VLM on Wednesday February 14 2018, @03:48PM

      by VLM (445) on Wednesday February 14 2018, @03:48PM (#637621)

      If you want to do SETI the interesting way, you broadcast one of those low res dot photos along with "here's a picture of our home, any of you losers able to do better astrophotography than us? I think not, LOL." Now if the Cylons or Necrons or Klingons or whatever transmit back something with Google Maps resolution, then yeah we're pretty well screwed, but that's getting off point, the point is we could troll alien civilizations into talking to us.

      "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries"

      Isn't going to translate cross culturally as well as a nice astrophotography troll.

      Anyway, my point is that trolling as a SETI strategy is vastly underrated.

  • (Score: 4, Informative) by VLM on Wednesday February 14 2018, @03:40PM

    by VLM (445) on Wednesday February 14 2018, @03:40PM (#637619)

    "Pale Blue Dot."

    I was unfamiliar with that terminology, so I researched it so you don't have to.

    Apparently at the request of Carl Sagan in 1990 Voyager 1 took an end of mission photo of the Earth which shows up as a dot. Well, technically it could be a camera or data artifact but everything seems to have worked according to plan and a bright pixel showed up about where it should, so we probably got a photo. Anyway the point is we built a space probe robot thirteen years previous and tossed it so far away it can't see us well anymore, which is technologically impressive from a longevity and pointing accuracy standpoint. Voyager 1, that was one hell of a robot space probe.

    At that point the technological story ended and it turned into one of those fuzzy popular science things where people think they are smart because they wear quartz crystal necklaces and talk about quantum multiverse karma, and according to Google Ngram viewer the concept of the Pale Blue Dot started taking off with those kind of people around 1994 and has VERY slowly been linear increasing since then. Note its not popular and not exponentially viral growing like a youtube cat video, so its a pop culture thing, but not much of one. I guess given the choice of talking about Star Trek using Quantum anything as a Deus Ex Machina for the hundredth time or wearing a quartz 3.579545 MHz colorburst crystal around your neck to keep RFID hackers away, its not the worst topic to discuss.

    I'm not really sure what the point is of doing it again. From a technological stunt standpoint, been there done that, although it would be interesting to see if it does it as well as Voyager did decades ago. From a pop culture philosophical standpoint its example eleventy trillion of one human saying "yeah ... what he said" once again about something in the past.

    Anyway, regardless of the highly questionable 'why", I hope it works, that's a cool space probe and it'll be interesting to compare technological progress (... if any).

    I look forward to the story in Feb/Mar 2019 containing the pictorial result although I can photoshop up a pretty convincing looking single blue pixel if you want a preview. Those of us with LCDs with a single-bit-stuck-on failure don't even need my theoretical .png

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Grishnakh on Wednesday February 14 2018, @04:21PM (6 children)

    by Grishnakh (2831) on Wednesday February 14 2018, @04:21PM (#637641)

    I'm generally a big fan of space missions and such, but this really seems like a big waste of time and effort to me, and also a waste of valuable bandwidth. New Horizons is *so* far away now that I'm really skeptical Earth will even show up, and if it does, due to the vastness of space, it's just going to look like a single lit pixel on a black background; it won't be much to look at. It's not like crappy unrealistic sci-fi stuff where you'll see the Sun, other planets, etc. all in the same shot.

    I'd rather they spent their effort on something more productive, such as taking photos of things outside the Solar System, and sending those back. New Horizons one of the farthest human-made objects from Earth right now, and has much better cameras than the ones on the other two objects that are probably farther out, so it should be able to see stuff from a perspective that we don't have here.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday February 14 2018, @04:26PM (1 child)

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Wednesday February 14 2018, @04:26PM (#637647) Journal

      YttriumOxide (1165) had the opposite complaint of you on the previous story [soylentnews.org].

      But yes, considering they admit a risk of damaging the camera(s) by accidentally pointing at the Sun, they should stick to shooting KBOs at oblique angles, something that will be impossible for other spacecraft until more Kuiper belt missions get sent out that far.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Wednesday February 14 2018, @05:30PM

        by Grishnakh (2831) on Wednesday February 14 2018, @05:30PM (#637693)

        Yeah, I forgot to mention that bit about the risk to the camera(s), that's important too. I agree, I really don't think this is a wise use of this resource; we don't have any other probes in the Kuiper Belt and it's useful being able to take pictures there of KBOs.

    • (Score: 2) by tfried on Wednesday February 14 2018, @08:16PM

      by tfried (5534) on Wednesday February 14 2018, @08:16PM (#637834)

      it won't be much to look at

      Well, they'll just release an "artist's impression" - problem solved...

    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 14 2018, @08:22PM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 14 2018, @08:22PM (#637843)

      Sagan's pale blue dot photograph was worth the time, effort, and risk. I expect this will be to, given they wouldn't attempt it if the risk was too high.

      https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/73/Pale_Blue_Dot.png [wikimedia.org]

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Grishnakh on Wednesday February 14 2018, @09:05PM (1 child)

        by Grishnakh (2831) on Wednesday February 14 2018, @09:05PM (#637878)

        Well, 1) we already have that photo, for what it's worth, and 2) it's not much of a photo: Earth is just a single pixel and you can't make out anything else, as the vague color bands are just an artifact of sunlight scattered by the camera's optics, and there's a ton of noise. There's no reference here at all; in photographic terms, it's really quite lousy. I guess at the time it made sense because they didn't think the probe would keep working and being useful much beyond Saturn, so they didn't think they were risking much, and the team that controlled the spacecraft were all being transferred to other projects too. In fact, according to the Wikipedia article, Voyager 1 powered its cameras down after this photograph and never used them again. This just isn't the case with New Horizons; it has another mission coming up soon, as soon as it gets near 2014 MU69.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 15 2018, @12:11AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 15 2018, @12:11AM (#637965)

          It does seem a waste of propellant if there's other work to be done.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 14 2018, @04:43PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 14 2018, @04:43PM (#637659)

    Hey, I can see my house!

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