Archive

Archive for the ‘New Horizons’ Category

02/12/2018 – Ephemeris – Ultima Thule is not what it first seemed

February 12, 2019 Comments off

Ephemeris for Tuesday, February 12th. Today the Sun will be up for 10 hours and 18 minutes, setting at 6:06, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:46. The Moon, at first quarter today, will set at 2:03 tomorrow morning.

This is just nuts. When the New Horizons spacecraft got around behind the body nicknamed Ultima Thule New Years Day and took a crescent view of it, they got a much thinner crescent than they thought. Instead of two round balls in contact, that they saw on approach they saw two very flattened lumps. From the approach side the body looked like a small ball sitting on a larger one. It turns out that the two components of Ultima Thule, named Ultima for the part with the greater diameter and Thule the smaller actually have the same mass. The spin axis runs right through the narrow neck that connects them. That’s their center of mass, or center of gravity. It’s sending planetary scientists back to the blackboard.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

First closeup of Ultima Thule

Ultima Thule on approach combining low resolution color image with the high-resolution monochromatic image shows the body in almost true color. Credit NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Crescent Ultima Thule

The crescent of Ultima Thule, looking back after closest approach. Credit NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Possible side view of Ultima Thule

Side view of Ultima Thule: Top as it was from the approach images. Bottoms as it actually appears to be. The blue dash lines the limits of what the flattening could be. Credit NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

01/14/2019 – Ephemeris – New Horizons returned first images of Ultima Thule

January 14, 2019 1 comment

Ephemeris for Monday, January 14th. The Sun will rise at 8:17. It’ll be up for 9 hours and 9 minutes, setting at 5:26. The Moon, at first quarter today, will set at 2:04 tomorrow morning.

On January 1st, just after midnight eastern time the New Horizons spacecraft made its closest pass of the small Kuiper Belt Object 2014 Mu69, nicknamed Ultima Thule. At just about 10:30 that morning the expected phone home came back over 4 billion miles, and 6 hours travel time from a 15 watt transmitter on the spacecraft. New Horizons was in perfect health an its data recorders were full. It will take 20 months at a thousand bits per second to relay all that information back to Earth. Though we’ll get better pictures to come, Ultima Thule is a contact binary of two nearly spherical bodies that collided very gently. It looks like a snowman of reddish-brown snow. It fits the silhouette made by it passing in front of a star back in 2017.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

First closeup of Ultima Thule

Ultima Thule on approach combing a low resolution color image with the high resolution monochromatic image shows the body in almost true color. Credit NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Occultation

Pre-encounter occultation attempts of Ultima Thule. Continued caption from the Vatican Observatory Foundation Blog: “The colored lines mark the path of a star as seen from different telescopes on each day; the blank spaces on those lines indicate the few seconds when MU69 blocked the light from the star. Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI / James Tuttle Keane”

Note from the image:  The term “astrometry” (pronounced as-trom-e-try) is the science of measuring the precise positions and motions of celestial bodies.

The New Horizons spacecraft went into solar conjunction from January 4th to the 9th.  Meaning it was too close to the direction of the Sun to send of receive data due to the Sun’s radio interference.  On the night of the 9th I noticed that on the DNS-Now website that the big antenna at Canberra Australia was in contact with it.  So more data is flowing down!

12/31/2018 – Ephemeris – New Year 2019 – A new solar system body is being explored right now!

December 31, 2018 Comments off

Ephemeris for New Years Eve, Monday, December 31st. The Sun will rise at 8:20. It’ll be up for 8 hours and 51 minutes, setting at 5:11. The Moon, 2 days past last quarter, will rise at 3:54 tomorrow morning.

Later tonight the New Horizons spacecraft, which flew by Pluto and its retinue of moons, will fly by Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule. It’s probably an odd looking contact binary body with lobes 12 ½ and 11 miles (20 & 18 km) in diameter. That’s the guess as of a week ago. It will pass this body by 1,366 miles (2200 km), traveling at over 32 thousand miles an hour (52,000 kph). The spacecraft will pass closest approach at 33 minutes after the ball drops in Times Square. Nearly 4 hours later it will phone home. We won’t receive that message here on Earth until 10:28 a.m. due to the over 6 hours of time it takes the radio signal to reach Earth. We should get the first images by tomorrow night.  The New Horizons spacecraft was built and is flown by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (JHAPL) is collaboration with NASA and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Path of New Horizons

The Trajectory and position of New Horizons as it approached 2014 MU69 two months ago showing some of the KBOs recently discovered near its path. Credit JHAPL.

Ultima Thule silhouette

Silhouette of KBO 2014 MU69 (Ultima Thule) created by occultation timings on July 17, 2017 from southern Argentina.  Credit NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker.

Links to information can be found here:  http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/Where-to-Watch.php.

A cool app to follow New Horizons in real-time or to preview its passage of Ultima Thule is NASA’s Eyes:  https://eyes.nasa.gov/.

NASA's Eyes

NASA’s Eyes screen Captured as a real-time simulation as I write this post. At this time two instruments are active, LORRI the long-range imager and ALICE the Ultraviolet imaging spectrometer. Click on the image to enlarge. Credit NASA/JPL

 

07/14/2016 – Ephemeris – The first anniversary of New Horizons flyby of Pluto

July 14, 2016 Comments off

Ephemeris for Thursday, July 14th.  Today the Sun will be up for 15 hours and 14 minutes, setting at 9:25, and it will rise tomorrow at 6:11.  The Moon, 3 days past first quarter, will set at 2:57 tomorrow morning.

One year ago today the New Horizons Spacecraft flew past Pluto for our first closeup look at this small world and its satellites.  And wow, what we saw.  In actuality not all the data from the few hours of the flyby have been returned to the Earth.  We saw ice mountains as high as the Rockies,  Nitrogen plains that look like they flowed from what may be heat from below, and a possible subterranean water ocean, which was recently reported.  New Horizons has already tweaked its orbit to pass near another Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69.  Recently The New Horizons team received the go-ahead for the encounter with this, perhaps 20 mile diameter body.  The flyby will take place on January 1, 2019.

Times are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Krun Macula

Krun Macula – Krun is the lord of the underworld in the Mandaean religion, and a macula is a dark feature on a planetary surface – is believed to get its dark red color from tholins, complex molecules found across Pluto. Krun Macula rises 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) above the surrounding plain – informally named Sputnik Planum – and is scarred by clusters of connected, roughly circular pits that typically reach between 5 and 8 miles (8 and 13 kilometers) across, and up to 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) deep.  Image and caption credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Pluto's faults

These odd fault lines are also seen on the Jovian moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus and could be the surface signs of an underground ocean. Credit New Horizons/ NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Here’s more information from EarthSky.

New Horizon's curret position

New Horizon’s location as of yesterday. Heading out to 2014 MU69. Credit jhuapl.edu.

 

12/29/2015 – Ephemeris – Some space triumphs of 2015

December 29, 2015 Comments off

Ephemeris for Tuesday, December 29th.  The Sun will rise at 8:19.  It’ll be up for 8 hours and 50 minutes, setting at 5:10.   The Moon, half way from full to last quarter, will rise at 9:58 this evening.

This past year had several important events.  Perhaps the biggest was the flyby of Pluto and its moons July 14th By the New Horizons spacecraft.  The transmission of data and images will continue for most of 2016, but what has been revealed has been spectacular if puzzling.  In other space news Blue Origin landed their New Shepard rocket vertically after sending it straight up 60 miles.  In June the SpaceX Falcon 9 blew up while attempting to send its 7th resupply Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.  Eight days ago The Falcon 9 returned to flight orbiting 11 satellites for Orbocomm, and flew the booster from over 100 miles up and 100 miles out over the Atlantic to land upright on its designated landing pad back at the cape.

Times are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Pluto

Enhanced color portrait of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Shepard landing

Blue Origin New Shepard rocket, with landing legs expended about to land. Credit: Blue Origin.

Falcon 9

First stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 descending on its center rocket engine to the center of the main landing pad at Cape Canaveral. Credit: SpaceX.

These weren’t the only highlights of 2015.  Having only 45 seconds to devote to the story, I picked the three most important events.  I consider the reuseability of rockets to be the Holy Grail of reducing the cost to access to space.  The Space Shuttle was a partial, but ultimately failed solution.  SpaceX had the most difficult task in refurbishment and reuse because the first stage had to endure a supersonic reentry, though it didn’t need a heat shield.  We’ll have to see if the cost of recycling rocket boosters is cheaper than building one from scratch.

10/29/2015 – Ephemeris – The blue skies of Pluto

October 29, 2015 Comments off

Ephemeris for Thursday, October 29th.  The Sun will rise at 8:16.  It’ll be up for 10 hours and 19 minutes, setting at 6:36.   The Moon, 2 days past full, will rise at 8:40 this evening.

Images from the New Horizons spacecraft are streaming back slowly.  It’s like trying to download a modern megapixel camera image using a thousand to two thousand bits per second telephone modem back in the ’90s.  That’s why the images are dribbling out.  They are released each Thursday or Friday.  One of the last images was a colored image of the ring of atmosphere of Pluto backlit by the Sun, showing that the dwarf planet had a blue sky.  The reason is still debated because there appear to be minute particles thought to be tholins in Pluto’s atmosphere.  These would be colored brown or red.  However they seen to preferentially scatter blue light like the nitrogen molecules in our atmosphere.

Times are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Pluto in Silhouette

Pluto seen in silhouette, backlit by the Sun in color. Released October 10, 2015 by NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

10/02/2015 – Ephemeris – I talk about Pluto and New Horizons tonight

October 2, 2015 Comments off

Ephemeris for Friday, October 2nd.  The Sun will rise at 7:41.  It’ll be up for 11 hours and 40 minutes, setting at 7:21.   The Moon, 2 days before last quarter, will rise at 10:53 this evening.

This evening yours truly will be reviewing the results so far from the New Horizons spacecraft and its close encounter with Pluto and its moons July 14th. This will be at the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society meeting at Northwestern Michigan College’s Rogers Observatory at 8 p.m.  If you’ve not been keeping up with the releases of photos of Pluto and its moons be prepared to be amazed by the beauty of this frozen but apparently active world.  Afterward from 9 p.m. there will be time to view the wonders of the autumn skies if it’s clear.  If not there will be guided tour of the autumn skies via computer simulation.  The observatory is located south of Traverse City on Birmley Road between Garfield and Keystone Roads.

Times are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Charon in color

Latest high resolution color image of Charon released yesterday. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.