Updates NASA New Horizons Mission Updates

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This image, taken during the historic Jan. 1 flyby of what's informally known as Ultima Thule, is the clearest view yet of this remarkable, ancient object in the far reaches of the solar system – and the first small "KBO" ever explored by a spacecraft.
Obtained with the wide-angle Multicolor Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) component of New Horizons' Ralph instrument, this image was taken when the KBO was 4,200 miles (6,700 kilometers) from the spacecraft, at 05:26 UT (12:26 a.m. EST) on Jan. 1 – just seven minutes before closest approach. With an original resolution of 440 feet (135 meters) per pixel, the image was stored in the spacecraft's data memory and transmitted to Earth on Jan. 18-19. Scientists then sharpened the image to enhance fine detail. (This process – known as deconvolution – also amplifies the graininess of the image when viewed at high contrast.)
http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/News-Article.php?page=20190124
 

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[ame="https://twitter.com/JHUAPL/status/1093982077903663104"]Johns Hopkins APL on Twitter: "‼�BREAKING‼�2014 MU69 (nicknamed #UltimaThule), is not, as it turns out, quite so round as initially anticipated. Images from @NASANewHorizons confirm the highly unusual, flatter shape of the #KBO: https://t.co/yaAZx8XQqO… https://t.co/v1rD7aNxGp"[/ame]

JHUAPL: "New Horizons' Evocative Farewell Glance at Ultima Thule: Images Confirm the Kuiper Belt Object's Highly Unusual, Flatter Shape"
An evocative new image sequence from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft offers a departing view of the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) nicknamed Ultima Thule – the target of its New Year's 2019 flyby and the most distant world ever explored.

These aren't the last Ultima Thule images New Horizons will send back to Earth – in fact, many more are to come -- but they are the final views New Horizons captured of the KBO (officially named 2014 MU69) as it raced away at over 31,000 miles per hour (50,000 kilometers per hour) on Jan. 1. The images were taken nearly 10 minutes after New Horizons crossed its closest approach point.

"This really is an incredible image sequence, taken by a spacecraft exploring a small world four billion miles away from Earth," said mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of Southwest Research Institute. "Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery."

The newly released images also contain important scientific information about the shape of Ultima Thule, which is turning out to be one of the major discoveries from the flyby.

The first close-up images of Ultima Thule – with its two distinct and, apparently, spherical segments – had observers calling it a "snowman." However, more analysis of approach images and these new departure images have changed that view, in part by revealing an outline of the portion of the KBO that was not illuminated by the Sun, but could be "traced out" as it blocked the view to background stars.

Stringing 14 of these images into a short departure movie, New Horizons scientists can confirm that the two sections (or "lobes") of Ultima Thule are not spherical. The larger lobe, nicknamed "Ultima," more closely resembles a giant pancake and the smaller lobe, nicknamed "Thule," is shaped like a dented walnut.

"We had an impression of Ultima Thule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view," Stern said. "It would be closer to reality to say Ultima Thule's shape is flatter, like a pancake. But more importantly, the new images are creating scientific puzzles about how such an object could even be formed. We've never seen something like this orbiting the Sun."

The departure images were taken from a different angle than the approach photos and reveal complementary information on Ultima Thule's shape. The central frame of the sequence was taken on Jan. 1 at 05:42:42 UT (12:42 a.m. EST), when New Horizons was 5,494 miles (8,862 kilometers) beyond Ultima Thule, and 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth. The object's illuminated crescent is blurred in the individual frames because a relatively long exposure time was used during this rapid scan to boost the camera's signal level – but the science team combined and processed the images to remove the blurring and sharpen the thin crescent.

Many background stars are also seen in the individual images; watching which stars "blinked out" as the object passed in front them allowed scientists to outline the shape of both lobes, which could then be compared to a model assembled from analyzing pre-flyby images and ground-based telescope observations. "The shape model we have derived from all of the existing Ultima Thule imagery is remarkably consistent with what we have learned from the new crescent images," says Simon Porter, a New Horizons co-investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, who leads the shape-modeling effort.

"While the very nature of a fast flyby in some ways limits how well we can determine the true shape of Ultima Thule, the new results clearly show that Ultima and Thule are much flatter than originally believed, and much flatter than expected," added Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. "This will undoubtedly motivate new theories of planetesimal formation in the early solar system."

The images in this sequence will be available on the New Horizons LORRI website this week. Raw images from the camera are posted to the site each Friday.
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New Horizons took this image of the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule) on Jan. 1, 2019, when the NASA spacecraft was 5,494 miles (8,862 kilometers) beyond it. The image to the left is an "average" of ten images taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI); the crescent is blurred in the raw frames because a relatively long exposure time was used during this rapid scan to boost the camera’s si'gnal level. Mission scientists have been able to process the image, removing the motion blur to produce a sharper, brighter view of Ultima Thule's thin crescent.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory
|Scientists' understanding of Ultima Thule has changed as they review additional data. The "old view" in this illustration is based on images taken within a day of New Horizons' closest approach to the Kuiper Belt object on Jan. 1, 2019, suggesting that both of "Ultima" (the larger section, or lobe) and "Thule" (the smaller) were nearly perfect spheres just barely touching each other.
But as more data were analyzed, including several highly evocative crescent images taken nearly 10 minutes after closest approach, a "new view" of the object's shape emerged. Ultima more closely resembles a "pancake," and Thule a "dented walnut."​
The bottom view is the team's current best shape model for Ultima Thule, but still carries some uncertainty as an entire region was essentially hidden from view, and not illuminated by the Sun, during the New Horizons flyby. The dashed blue lines span the uncertainty in that hemisphere, which shows that Ultima Thule could be either flatter than, or not as flat as, depicted in this figure.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
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February 22, 2019
Spot On!
New Horizons Spacecraft Returns Its Sharpest Views of Ultima Thule

Highest Resolution Image of Ultima Thule
The most detailed images of Ultima Thule -- obtained just minutes before the spacecraft's closest approach at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1 -- have a resolution of about 110 feet (33 meters) per pixel. Their combination of higher spatial resolution and a favorable viewing geometry offer an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the surface of Ultima Thule, believed to be the most primitive object ever encountered by a spacecraft.
This processed, composite picture combines nine individual images taken with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), each with an exposure time of 0.025 seconds, just 6 ½ minutes before the spacecraft's closest approach to Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69). The image was taken at 5:26 UT (12:26 a.m. EST) on Jan. 1, 2019, when the spacecraft was 4,109 miles (6,628 kilometers) from Ultima Thule and 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth. The angle between the spacecraft, Ultima Thule and the Sun – known as the "phase angle" – was 33 degrees.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute, National Optical Astronomy Observatory
The mission team called it a "stretch goal" – just before closest approach, precisely point the cameras on NASA's New Horizons spacecraft to snap the sharpest possible pics of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule, its New Year's flyby target and the farthest object ever explored.
http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/News-Article.php?page=20190222
 

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March 7, 2019
Ultima Thule in 3D
New Horizons Team Uses Stereo Imaging to Examine Kuiper Belt Object's Features
Cross your eyes and break out the 3D glasses! NASA's New Horizons team has created new stereo views of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule – the target of the New Horizons spacecraft's historic New Year's 2019 flyby, four billion miles from Earth – and the images are as cool and captivating as they are scientifically valuable.
http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/News-Article.php?page=20190307
 

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May 16, 2019
NASA's New Horizons Team Publishes First Kuiper Belt Flyby Science Results
Most distant object ever explored presents mysteries of its formation

Total Teamwork
Aside from the scientific results it contains, the New Horizons Science paper summarizing early findings from the flyby of Ultima Thule is noteworthy for another reason: it has more than 200 co-authors, representing more than 40 institutions. Principal Investigator Alan Stern, as mission head and lead author, thought it important to give authorship to the full range of team members who had role on the successful flyby. As a result, Stern's paper includes authors from the science, spacecraft, operations, mission design, management and communications teams, as well as collaborators, such as contributing scientist and stereo imaging specialist (and legendary Queen guitarist) Brian May, NASA Planetary Division Director Lori Glaze, NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green, and NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate Thomas Zurbuchen.
Image Credit: AAAS/Science
NASA's New Horizons mission team has published the first profile of the farthest world ever explored, a planetary building block and Kuiper Belt object called 2014 MU69.
Analyzing just the first sets of data gathered during the New Horizons spacecraft's New Year's 2019 flyby of MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule) the mission team quickly discovered an object far more complex than expected. The team publishes the first peer-reviewed scientific results and interpretations – just four months after the flyby – in the May 17 issue of the journal Science.
http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/News-Article.php?page=20190516
 

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May 23, 2019
The PI's Perspective: We Made the Cover of the 'Rolling Stone' (for Nerds)!

The first published results from New Horizons' flyby of 2014 MU69 appeared May 17 in the journal Science. Image credit: AAAS/Science
The New Horizons spacecraft and its seven scientific instruments are performing well, with no problems. New Horizons is now more than 100 million miles past our first KBO flyby target, 2014 MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule, or UT), and plowing deeper into the Kuiper Belt every day. Estimates are that we won't leave the Kuiper Belt for eight more years.
Meanwhile, after almost four months of intensive data downlink to Earth, about 25% of all the bits collected during the flyby are now on the ground. More data comes back every week.
http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/PI-Perspectives.php?page=piPerspective_05_23_2019
 

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August 8, 2019
International Astronomical Union Approves Second Set of Pluto Feature Names
Designations Were Proposed by NASA's New Horizons Mission Team
Several people and missions who paved the way for the historic exploration of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt – the farthest worlds ever explored – are honored in the second set of official Pluto feature names approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the international authority for naming celestial bodies and their surface features.
http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/News-Article.php?page=20190808
 

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November 12, 2019
New Horizons Kuiper Belt Flyby Object Officially Named 'Arrokoth'

Rev. Nick Miles, of the Pamunkey Tribe, opens the 2014 MU69/Arrokoth naming ceremony at NASA Headquarters with a traditional Algonquian song. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)
In a fitting tribute to the farthest flyby ever conducted by spacecraft, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 has been officially named Arrokoth, a Native American term meaning "sky" in the Powhatan/Algonquian language.
With consent from Powhatan Tribal elders and representatives, NASA's New Horizons team – whose spacecraft performed the record-breaking reconnaissance of Arrokoth four billion miles from Earth – proposed the name to the International Astronomical Union and Minor Planet Center, the international authority for naming Kuiper Belt objects. The name was announced at a ceremony today at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/News-Article.php?page=20191112
 

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November 26, 2019
New Horizons Team Earns Sir Arthur Clarke Space Achievement Award

New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern gives a high five to Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman after the team received signals from the spacecraft that it was healthy and collected data during the flyby of 2014 MU69, now known as Arrokoth, on Jan. 1, 2019, in the Mission Operations Center of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The team that captivated the world with its exploration of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt received the Sir Arthur Clarke Award for International Space Achievement at the recent British Interplanetary Society Reinventing Space Conference 2019 Gala Dinner in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The New Horizons mission team and its Principal Investigator Alan Stern were jointly selected for outstanding achievements in space over the past many years.
http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/News-Article.php?page=20191126
 

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December 2, 2019
New Horizons Confirms Solar Wind Slows Farther from the Sun
Research could help predict when spacecraft will cross the termination shock

The SWAP instrument aboard NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has confirmed that the solar wind slows as it travels farther from the Sun. This schematic of the heliosphere shows the solar wind begins slowing at approximately 4 AU radial distance from the Sun and continues to slow as it moves toward the outer solar system and picks up interstellar material. Current extrapolations reveal the termination shock may currently be closer than found by the Voyager spacecraft. However, increasing solar activity will soon expand the heliosphere and push the termination shock farther out, possibly to the 84-94 AU range encountered by the Voyager spacecraft. (Image credit: Southwest Research Institute; background artist rendering by NASA and Adler Planetarium)
Measurements taken by the Solar Wind Around Pluto (SWAP) instrument aboard NASA's New Horizons spacecraft are providing important new insights from some of the farthest reaches of space ever explored. In a paper published recently in The Astrophysical Journal, New Horizons scientists show how the solar wind — the supersonic stream of charged particles blown out by the Sun — evolves at increasing distances from the Sun.
http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/News-Article.php?page=20191202
 

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December 6, 2019
The PI's Perspective: What a Year, What a Decade!
New Horizons is healthy and performing well as it flies ever onward, at nearly one million miles per day! This month we're collecting new data on the Kuiper Belt's charged particle and dust environment, and observing two distant Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) to learn about their surface properties, shapes and rotation periods, and to search for satellite systems.
Much more is in store for this mission, but as this year and decade conclude, I want to look back and take stock of where we have been.
http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/PI-Perspectives.php?page=piPerspective_12_06_2019
 

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For that, not only you need a very powerful launcher / injection stage, but you also need an engine that can fire to the second at the expected thrust level after nearly 10 years of idling. Pluto/Charon gravity well is tiny, it would require extreme reliability and precision.
a couple of orders of magnitude beyond "extreme" maybe? mextreme? Extremega? Seriously though: Thanks for the insight.
 

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January 29, 2020
Seeing Stars in 3D: The New Horizons Parallax Program
NASA's Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission invites public participation in a record-setting astronomical measurement
Have a good-sized telescope with a digital camera? Then you can team up with NASA's New Horizons mission this spring on a really cool – and record-setting -- deep-space experiment.
In April, New Horizons, which by then will be more than 46 times farther from the Sun than Earth, nearing 5 billion miles (8 billion kilometers) from home, will be used to detect "shifts" in the relative positions of nearby stars as compared with the way they appear to observers on Earth.
http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/News-Article.php?page=20200129
 

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February 13, 2020
New Horizons Team Discovers a Critical Piece of the Planetary Formation Puzzle

Data from NASA's New Horizons mission are providing new insights into how planets and planetesimals – the building blocks of the planets – were formed.
The New Horizons spacecraft flew past the ancient Kuiper Belt object Arrokoth (2014 MU69) on Jan. 1, 2019, providing humankind's first close-up look at one of the icy remnants of solar system formation in the vast region beyond the orbit of Neptune. Using detailed data on the object's shape, geology, color and composition – gathered during a record-setting flyby that occurred more than four billion miles from Earth – researchers have apparently answered a longstanding question about planetesimal origins, and therefore made a major advance in understanding how the planets themselves formed.
http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/News-Article.php?page=20200213

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-51295365
 
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April 15, 2020
The PI's Perspective: Probing Farther in the Kuiper Belt
New Horizons is healthy and performing perfectly as it flies deeper and deeper into the Kuiper Belt! Recently we conducted an engineering review of the spacecraft to "trend" how it was working compared to when it was launched. The result was amazing: Every system and science instrument aboard New Horizons is working as well as it did when we lifted off, more than 14 years and almost 5 billion miles ago. As mission principal investigator I could not be prouder — the men and women who designed, built and tested New Horizons literally created a masterpiece of American workmanship that will likely be able to perform and explore for many more years and many more miles!
Before I update you on mission news, I want to highlight something cool on our mission website, http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/. There's a crazy amount of detail there for anyone interested in knowing more about the New Horizons mission and our scientific discoveries, but we've also posted a file to create 3D spacecraft models. With this file anyone with access to a 3D printer can create their own New Horizons to have at home or at work!
http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/PI-Perspectives.php?page=piPerspective_04_15_2020
 

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April 17, 2020
Amateur Astronomers: Help NASA's New Horizons Mission with a Historic Stellar Parallax Experiment
For nearly two centuries, astronomers have used the parallax effect – how the apparent position of an object varies when seen along different lines of sight -- to measure the distances of faraway stars.
On April 22 and 23, the New Horizons spacecraft will take images of two of the nearest stars, Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359. When combined with Earth-based images made on the same dates, the result will be a record-setting parallax measurement. Read more about that here.
Amateur astronomers with small telescopes and CCD cameras can take part in this effort by imaging the same stars on the same nights from Earth. Combining their images with those made from New Horizons, it will be possible to create 3D images of nearby stars against their background star fields.
http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/News-Article.php?page=20200417
 

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June 11, 2020
NASA's New Horizons Conducts the First Interstellar Parallax Experiment

For the first time, a spacecraft has sent back pictures of the sky from so far away that some stars appear to be in different positions than we see from Earth.
More than four billion miles from home and speeding toward interstellar space, NASA's New Horizons has traveled so far that it now has a unique view of the nearest stars. "It's fair to say that New Horizons is looking at an alien sky, unlike what we see from Earth," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. "And that has allowed us to do something that had never been accomplished before — to see the nearest stars visibly displaced on the sky from the positions we see them on Earth."

On April 22-23, the spacecraft turned its long-range telescopic camera to a pair of the closest stars, Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359, showing just how they appear in different places than we see from Earth. Scientists have long used this "parallax effect" – how a star appears to shift against its background when seen from different locations -- to measure distances to stars.

An easy way to see parallax is to place one finger at arm's length and watch it jump back and forth when you view it successively with each eye. Similarly, as Earth makes it way around the Sun, the stars shift their positions. But because even the nearest stars are hundreds of thousands of times farther away than the diameter of Earth's orbit, the parallax shifts are tiny, and can only be measured with precise instrumentation.
"No human eye can detect these shifts," Stern said.
But when New Horizons images are paired with pictures of the same stars taken on the same dates by telescopes on Earth, the parallax shift is instantly visible. The combination yields a 3D view of the stars "floating" in front of their background star fields.
"The New Horizons experiment provides the largest parallax baseline ever made -- over 4 billion miles -- and is the first demonstration of an easily observable stellar parallax," said Tod Lauer, New Horizons science team member from the National Science Foundation's National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory who coordinated the parallax demonstration.
http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/News-Article.php?page=20200611
 

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Pluto Crater Named for New Horizons Pathfinder Tom Coughlin
 
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