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posted by martyb on Thursday August 30 2018, @11:35PM   Printer-friendly
from the getting-closer-while-far-away dept.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has imaged 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule, from about 172 million kilometers away:

Mission team members were thrilled – if not a little surprised – that New Horizons' telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was able to see the small, dim object while still more than 100 million miles away, and against a dense background of stars. Taken Aug. 16 and transmitted home through NASA's Deep Space Network over the following days, the set of 48 images marked the team's first attempt to find Ultima with the spacecraft's own cameras.

[...] This first detection is important because the observations New Horizons makes of Ultima over the next four months will help the mission team refine the spacecraft's course toward a closest approach to Ultima, at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1, 2019. That Ultima was where mission scientists expected it to be – in precisely the spot they predicted, using data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope – indicates the team already has a good idea of Ultima's orbit.

Meanwhile, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is approaching 101955 Bennu, and has taken a series of images from a distance of about 2.2 million kilometers:

After arrival at Bennu, the spacecraft will spend the first month performing flybys of Bennu's north pole, equator and south pole, at distances ranging between 11.8 and 4.4 miles (19 and 7 km) from the asteroid. These maneuvers will allow for the first direct measurement of Bennu's mass as well as close-up observations of the surface. These trajectories will also provide the mission's navigation team with experience navigating near the asteroid.

"Bennu's low gravity provides a unique challenge for the mission," said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "At roughly 0.3 miles [500 meters] in diameter, Bennu will be the smallest object that any spacecraft has ever orbited."


Original Submission

Related Stories

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


Original Submission

OSIRIS-REx Approaches Bennu, Sends Photo Captured at a Distance of 330 km 2 comments

Another Space Diamond! NASA Probe Snaps Great Photo of Asteroid Bennu

The asteroid Bennu is really coming into focus for NASA's approaching OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

OSIRIS-REx snapped eight photos of the 1,650-foot-wide (500 meters) Bennu on Monday (Oct. 29), when the probe was about 205 miles (330 kilometers) away from the space rock. Mission team members combined these images into a single "super-resolution" shot, which reveals boulders and other features on the asteroid's surface.

The striking photo also highlights Bennu's diamond shape, which is similar to that of the 3,000-foot-wide (900 m) asteroid Ryugu. Japan's Hayabusa2 mission has been orbiting Ryugu since late June and has dropped three separate landing craft onto the space rock's surface over the past five weeks.

101955 Bennu has an average diameter of 492 meters, compared to about 1 kilometer for 162173 Ryugu. New Horizons will fly by (486958) 2014 MU69, a 30-40 km object or objects, on January 1, capping the space rock trio for the year.

NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona photo.

Previously: New Horizons Spacecraft Approaches 2014 MU69; OSIRIS-REx Nears 101955 Bennu (images taken from 2.2 million km away)

Related: Hayabusa2 Reaches Asteroid 162173 Ryugu
Japan's Hopping Rovers Capture Amazing Views of Asteroid Ryugu
Short-Lived MASCOT Lander Reaches Asteroid Ryugu


Original Submission

NASA's OSIRIS-REx "Arrives" at Asteroid Bennu 4 comments

NASA's Osiris-Rex Arriving at Asteroid Bennu After a Two-Year Journey

Launched two years ago, NASA's Osiris-Rex spacecraft arrives at the asteroid Bennu on Monday. Its mission is to survey the asteroid ahead of retrieving pristine bits of the solar system from the rock's surface and then bringing them back to Earth in the years ahead.

[...] Osiris-Rex is pulling in at a modest speed, and the moment of arrival is a somewhat arbitrary designation. The spacecraft started the approach phase of its mission in August when it was 1.2 million miles from Bennu. On Monday, it will be 12 miles away, although still too far away to orbit the asteroid. There should be no drama. It should be just a smooth transition to the next phase of the mission.

Osiris-Rex will make a series of passes over the asteroid at a range of 4.3 miles for an initial survey to better determine its mass, rate of spin and shape. In January, the spacecraft will get closer to Bennu, between 0.9 and 1.2 miles, and be drawn into orbit around the asteroid. It will then spend more than a year performing reconnaissance of Bennu before attempting to bounce off the surface and collect a sample of the asteroid in mid-2020.

OSIRIS-REx and 101955 Bennu.

Previously: New Horizons Spacecraft Approaches 2014 MU69; OSIRIS-REx Nears 101955 Bennu
OSIRIS-REx Approaches Bennu, Sends Photo Captured at a Distance of 330 km


Original Submission

Final Planning for the New Horizons Flyby of 2014 MU69 (Ultima Thule) Underway 4 comments

The New Horizons team is preparing for their spacecraft to fly by 2014 MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule) on Jan. 1, 2019. At the current planned flyby distance, the spacecraft's instruments will take higher resolution imagery of the object(s) than what was seen at Pluto:

Because Ultima is small — probably just 25 km (16 miles) or so in diameter — it will remain just a point of light to New Horizons until about 2 days before the close flyby. However, in the final hours around closest approach, New Horizons will be able to map Ultima at higher resolutions than we achieved at Pluto, because we will fly by Ultima at a much closer range than we did at Pluto

We will obtain geologic mapping resolutions as high as 35 meters (110 feet) per pixel using LORRI. By comparison, our highest resolution Pluto mapping was about 80 meters (260 feet) per pixel.

With the Ralph imager, we also plan to acquire color images of Ultima with resolutions as high as 330 meters (0.2 miles) per pixel, and composition mapping at a resolution of 1.8 km (1.1 miles) per pixel. Stereo imaging made on approach will map the surface topography of Ultima at about 80 meters (260 feet) per pixel.The first detailed imagery of Ultima will be downlinked to Earth once the spacecraft has completed its main flyby objectives late on January 1st, and will be released to the public after processing and image analysis on January 2nd. More images, as well as spectra and other data sets, will be downlinked on January 2nd, 3rd, and 4th — so get ready to learn a lot about Ultima in the first week of the new year! Then the spacecraft will slip behind the Sun as seen from Earth and image transmissions will cease for 5 days until the spacecraft reappears and can resume data transmissions.

The total data volume collected on the Ultima flyby will be close to 50 gigabits. Because New Horizons is so far from Earth, about 6 billion km (4 billion miles), its data transmission speed is now only about 1,000 bits per second. This limitation, and the fact that we share NASA's Deep Space Network of tracking and communication antennas with over a dozen other NASA missions, means that it will take 20 months or more, until late in 2020, to send all of the data about Ultima and its environment back to Earth.

The team has until Dec. 16 to determine if there are any hazards (such as dust or satellites) that will necessitate changing the closest approach distance from 3,500 km to 10,000 km.

[According to the Deep Space Networkpage, at the time of this writing, the New Horizons probe is at a distance of 6.56 billion km with a round-trip light time of 12.16 hours. We're gonna need some faster light! --Ed.]

See also: Why NASA chose Senegal to observe a frozen world beyond Pluto

Previously: One Last Stellar Occultation of 2014 MU69 to be Observed Before Jan. 1 New Horizons Flyby
New Horizons Spacecraft Approaches 2014 MU69; OSIRIS-REx Nears 101955 Bennu


Original Submission

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Completes Final Tour of Asteroid Bennu 5 comments

NASA reports, via NASA, that OSIRIS-REx is leaving Bennu.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx completed its last flyover of Bennu around 6 a.m. EDT (4 a.m. MDT) April 7 and is now slowly drifting away from the asteroid; however, the mission team will have to wait a few more days to find out how the spacecraft changed the surface of Bennu when it grabbed a sample of the asteroid.

The OSIRIS-REx team added this flyby to document surface changes resulting from the Touch and Go (TAG) sample collection maneuver Oct. 20, 2020. "By surveying the distribution of the excavated material around the TAG site, we will learn more about the nature of the surface and subsurface materials along with the mechanical properties of the asteroid," said Dr. Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona.

During the flyby, OSIRIS-REx imaged Bennu for 5.9 hours, covering more than a full rotation of the asteroid. It flew within 2.1 miles' (3.5 kilometers) distance to the surface of Bennu – the closest it's been since the TAG sample collection event.

Just to mention, the survey and selection of a sampling site was one of the recent "citizen science" projects.

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  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by suburbanitemediocrity on Friday August 31 2018, @05:54AM

    by suburbanitemediocrity (6844) on Friday August 31 2018, @05:54AM (#728625)

    That's about 1.1AU in more relatable terms

  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by jelizondo on Friday August 31 2018, @06:07AM (6 children)

    by jelizondo (653) Subscriber Badge on Friday August 31 2018, @06:07AM (#728629) Journal

    A story not known, outside some very deep occult circles, is the level of civilization attained by dinosaurs.

    In actual fact they had progressed to the Space Era before they were destroyed by the Chicxulub [wikipedia.org] asteroid impact. The fact that the asteroid impact killed the dinosaurs is currently disputed but the existence of the impact crater and its age are not questioned.

    It happened that a deep space probe was sent to study asteroids but in their haste the dinosaurs forgot about orbital perturbations. The probe was sent, perturbed the asteroid and a few years later bam! the asteroid hit the Earth, killing them all.

    This knowledge is imparted to the lay because Bennu is an orbit that could indeed hit the Earth and the probe’s approach could have catastrophic effects. You have been warned.

    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 31 2018, @07:29AM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 31 2018, @07:29AM (#728647)

      My college roommate used to play video games all day. One was a civ type game that allowed you to play various species. I've always wondered if sentience had developed earlier on Earth, and if it did, would a technological civilization from a hundred million years ago be visible in the geological record. The answer is no, from what little I've read on the subject. But it's an interesting question.

      • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 31 2018, @07:31AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 31 2018, @07:31AM (#728649)

        PS, we were physics majors so

        ...forgot about orbital perturbations...

        is one of the dumber things that I've read.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Freeman on Friday August 31 2018, @03:19PM

        by Freeman (732) on Friday August 31 2018, @03:19PM (#728778) Journal

        Civ type game that allowed you to play various species is actually a fairly small group of games. I'm going with, Master of Magic, or perhaps one of the Age of Wonders series of games (spiritual successor to Master of Magic). Unless he was actually just playing a Civ Mod. It could be a really vague statement on your part and you actually meant something like Master of Orion.

        --
        Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee"
    • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Friday August 31 2018, @05:18PM (2 children)

      by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Friday August 31 2018, @05:18PM (#728840) Homepage Journal

      You've been reading Cixin Liu?

      --
      "no more than 8 bullets in a round" - Joe Biden
      • (Score: 1) by jelizondo on Friday August 31 2018, @07:21PM (1 child)

        by jelizondo (653) Subscriber Badge on Friday August 31 2018, @07:21PM (#728915) Journal

        Indeed. Actually I am reading again "The Three Body Problem" because its been a while since I read it for the first time and wanted to have it fresh in my mind for the first book review we plan for next month. (tomorrow?)

        Of course the post was an attempt at a joke...

        Cheers.

        • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Saturday September 01 2018, @01:42AM

          by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Saturday September 01 2018, @01:42AM (#729062) Homepage Journal

          Yeah, I've pulled Three Body out to read again. Like a couple other extra-large stories, once finishing it, coming back to the beginning seems alien.

          --
          "no more than 8 bullets in a round" - Joe Biden
  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by hendrikboom on Friday August 31 2018, @02:10PM (4 children)

    by hendrikboom (1125) Subscriber Badge on Friday August 31 2018, @02:10PM (#728742) Homepage Journal

    Is 12:33 a.m. EST when it's at its closest approach or when we get to see it, given lightspeed delays? If we get to see it then, it may be worth staying up all night for new year's.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by hendrikboom on Friday August 31 2018, @02:11PM

      by hendrikboom (1125) Subscriber Badge on Friday August 31 2018, @02:11PM (#728744) Homepage Journal

      Happy New Horizons!

    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 31 2018, @03:30PM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 31 2018, @03:30PM (#728783)

      It is the moment the spacecraft passes the object(s). Getting images will probably take days for the initial ones and months for the entire dataset, since it is transmitting at about 1 Kbps, give or take. However, we might get some images in the weeks leading up to the flyby, possibly revealing whether it is a "contact binary", or a normal binary consisting of two objects orbiting each other.

      Another possibility is that New Horizons smashes into some debris and is destroyed!

      -t

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 31 2018, @04:59PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 31 2018, @04:59PM (#728823)

        Another possibility is that New Horizons smashes into some debris and is destroyed!

        They worried about that at Pluto, and so had the probe send one decent-quality photo roughly a day before closest encounter so that at least they'd have a nice souvenir even if the probe got destroyed by debris orbiting Pluto.

        However, the new object may be too small to do the same thing. By the time the probe is close enough to take a good snapshot, it won't have time to broadcast the image before closest approach. Unlike the Voyager probes, New Horizons cannot send high-res data to Earth while probing. It was a cost-saving decision.

        • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday August 31 2018, @05:45PM

          by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Friday August 31 2018, @05:45PM (#728857) Journal

          They have until mid-December to change course.

          MU69 could have scattered material all over the place if two lobes smashed into each other. We have also seen minor/dwarf planets (Haumea, Chariklo, Chiron) with ring systems.

          That said, the system's diameter is in the ballpark of 40 km and New Horizons will approach as close at 3,500 km. The flyby may be perfectly safe.

          --
          [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
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