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New Horizons Has Detected Something Weird About Ultima Thule



Image: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI

NASA's New Horizons is on its way to Ultima Thule , a journey that wants to see the NASA spacecraft whiz past this mysterious Kuiper Belt object on New Year's Day. Ultimate Thule is reflecting incoming light.

New Horizons wants to zoom past Ultima Thule at 12:33 am ET on January 1, 2019, at speeds in excess of 31,500 miles per hour and at a distance of around 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers). We'll be able to see the object in exquisite detail, but until then, project scientists are having to contend with an unexpected mystery.

Ultima Thule, as we. (1965) Ultima Thule, as we. (1965) Ultima Thule, as we already know, is not spherically shaped. Back in 2017, comments made from telescopes in Argentina have suggested that they be ovular or cigar-shaped, or possibly even two objects that are in close proximity to each other (a binary pair) or possibly even touching (a contact binary). That's all cool, as we've seen objects as well as these before (here, here and here). What's weird in this case, however, is that it comes in the form of an incoming light from the sun. This is a puzzle, "New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said in a statement.

" It's really a puzzle, "New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said in a statement. "I call this Ultima's first puzzle-why does it have such a tiny light curve that it can not even detect it? I expect the detailed flyby images of the new horizons flying past Ultima Thule.

Artist's impression of New Horizons flying past Ultima Thule.
Illustration: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

So why is this distant Kuiper Belt object devoid of a detectable light curve?

Marc Buie, a mission scientist from the Southwest Research Institute, said it's possible that Ultima Thule's rotation pole is pointing directly at New Horizons as it approaches. So from the spacecraft's perspective, Ultima Thule is spinning, but the spacecraft is only able to see the same reflective side-hence the absence of a light curve. It would be like watching a merry-go-round from directly above. It's a good, and probably the most plausible, explanation, but it requires. "

" Another explanation, "said Mark Showalter from the SETI Institute," is It's another decent explanation, but as showalter admitted, a heat Source would be required to produce a coma of this magnitude.

Anne Verbiscer, a researcher at the University of Virginia and a New Horizons assistant project scientist, said Ultima Thule may be surrounded by many tumbling moons. In this multiple-moonlet scenario, each moon would produce its own light curve, but collectively, these curves would appear, the words of verbiscer, as a "jumbled superposition of light curves." From the perspective of New Horizons, it would look like a single, small light curve. The problem with this theory is that it is not true that it is true, it would be true, it would be a new child of astronomical phenomenon.

It is a mystery, but the conundrum should be resolved New Horizons gets closer to its target. My hope is that it's an extraterrestrial telecommunications array directly at Earth, but sadly, it's probably just a dark, dead rock with a rather peculiar spin.

[NASA New Horizons]


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