New Horizons opts for primary flyby path around Ultima Thule 

Posted: December 19, 2018 by oldbrew in exploration, News, solar system dynamics
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The orbit of 2014 MU69 with the path of New Horizons [credit: NASA@Wikipedia]

“Ultima Thule” (2014 MU69) means “beyond the borders of the known world.” It takes nearly 300 years to orbit the Sun. Scientists ‘have no idea what to expect’.

After several weeks of sensitive searches for rings, small moons and other potential hazards around 2014 MU69, a Kuiper belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule, the dozen-member New Horizons hazard watch team gave the ‘all clear’ for the spacecraft to remain on a path that takes it about 2,200 miles (3,500 km) from Ultima Thule, instead of a hazard-avoiding detour that would have pushed it three times farther out, reports Sci-News.

“New Horizons is now targeted for the optimal flyby, over three times closer than we flew to Pluto. Ultima, here we come,” said New Horizons principal investigator Dr. Alan Stern, a researcher at Southwest Research Institute.

New Horizons will make its historic close approach to Ultima Thule at 12:33 a.m. EST on January 1, 2019.

With the probe blazing though space at some 31,500 mph (50,700 km per hour), a particle as small as a grain of rice could be lethal to the piano-sized probe.

The New Horizons hazard watch team had been using the spacecraft’s most powerful telescopic camera, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), to look for potential hazards.

The decision on whether to keep the probe on its original course or divert to a more distant flyby, which would have produced less-detailed data, had to be made this week since the last opportunity to maneuver the spacecraft onto another trajectory was yesterday, December 18, 2018.

Continued here.

  1. oldbrew says:

    Nasa’s New Horizons probe on course for historic flyby

    Like many Kuiper belt objects of its type, it is likely to be composed of dust and ices that came together at the dawn of the Solar System more than 4.5 billion years ago.
    . . .
    New Horizons will study Ultima’s shape, composition and environment.

    Scientists hope Ultima can provide insights on how these distant objects formed. One idea is that they grew from the mass accretion of a great many pebble-sized grains.
    – – –
    Accretion of ice?

  2. oldbrew says:

    New Horizons scientists puzzled by lack of a ‘light curve’ from their Kuiper Belt flyby target
    December 21, 2018, Johns Hopkins University

    “It’s really a puzzle,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute. “I call this Ultima’s first puzzle – why does it have such a tiny light curve that we can’t even detect it? I expect the detailed flyby images coming soon to give us many more mysteries, but I did not expect this, and so soon.”

  3. oldbrew says:

    New Horizons Survived its Flyby of Ultima Thule
    January 1, 2019

    New Horizons successfully “phoned home” at 10:28 a.m. EST, letting NASA scientists know all of its systems survived the flyby of Ultima Thule. The first real images will now slowly trickle in over the coming hours and days.

    “We have a healthy spacecraft,” Mission Operations Manager, “MOM,” Alice Bowman announced to a crowd of cheering scientists Tuesday morning.