After passing Pluto in July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is quickly approaching its subsequent vacation spot: Ultima Thule — or 2014 MU69 — a space rock solely 23 miles (37 kilometers) throughout. Anticipated date of arrival: New Year’s Day.
Ultima Thule is 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth within the so-referred to as Kuiper Belt — the area of the Solar System that lies past the recognized eight planets. It was found in 2014 when NASA scientists had been searching for area rocks for New Horizons to go to. It’s been there for greater than 4.5 billion years, so having a better look may reveal critical insights into the earliest days of our solar system.
We don’t know a lot concerning the space rock, but we do know that getting a better look will show reasonably troublesome. “It’s loads more durable than Pluto,” stated mission chief Alan Stern, as quoted by New Scientist. “As a substitute of being the dimensions of the continental US, it’s the scale of Boston. Being 100 instances smaller means it’s 10,000 instances fainter.”
After which there’s the truth that New Horizons’ batteries are slowly degrading — which means much less energy for preserving the lights on, and suffice it to say, issues get fairly darkish billions of kilometers away from the Solar.
Earlier this week, scientists have been puzzled by Ultima Thule’s odd form. Group members at NASA thought the space rock was elongated entirely than spherical. However, observations confirmed that the “mild curve” emitted from it was fixed, suggesting it was spherical in any case.
“I name this Ultima’s first puzzle — why does it have such a little mild curve that we are able even to detect it? I anticipate the detailed flyby photographs coming quickly to present us many other mysteries. However, I didn’t count on this, and so quickly,” mentioned New Horizons venture lead Alan Stern in a current assertion. The unique gentle signature may very well be attributable to a “cloud of mud” and even “many tiny tumbling moons” surrounding it, suggests New Horizon’s group within the assertion.