J A week before NASA's New Horizons mission arrives at the farthest object ever studied, mission scientists have noticed something that raised their eyebrows. The object they are approaching on New Year's Eve behaves strangely – and at this point they can only guess why.
The New Horizons mission first began in 2006 as part of NASA's plan to explore the remote, frozen areas of our solar system. In 2015, New Horizons completed a six-month study of the dwarf planet Pluto, but New Horizons was always aimed at exploring deeper regions of the Kuiper Giant ̵
But on Sunday, project scientists
noted something strange about Ultima Thule: it did not reflect light as you would expect from an object of this kind.
"Ultima keeps its secrets well, but we are getting closer and the flyby is only a week away."
Earlier pictures of Ultima Thule have shown that they are actually two objects, either joined at the waist be or circle very closely. Sunlight is reflected on these objects. They expect the light to pulsate as the oddly shaped object rotates and the light reflects differently. These changes are also called the light curve. But the Ultima Thule does not get brighter or darker on rotation.
So far, scientists have put three possible explanations behind the missing light curve. Marc Buie, an astronomer from the Southwest Research Institute who works on the New Horizon missions, said it could only be a matter of orientation. He suggested that Ultimate Thule's pivot is only aimed at New Horizons, which would affect how much light the spacecraft actually reaches.
Mark Showalter, a senior scientist from the Seti Institute, suggested that the object could simply be obscured by a cloud of dust. And finally, Anne Verbiscer, PhD student of the New Horizons Wizard, added that Ultima Thule might be surrounded by "many tiny drumming moons" that could affect the light curve of Ultima Thule.
Which of these three ideas could it be? Alan Stern, Ph.D., says the lead investigator of the project . Inverse is not yet ready to engage in any of the ideas.
"We do not know what's likely to happen. Ultima is guarding its secrets well, but we are getting closer and the flyby is only a week away.
How to Watch the Flyby's Withdrawal
Stern expects some answers if the probe is in fact close enough to see Ultima Thule for himself. New Horizons will be located 2,200 miles from Ultima Thule on New Year's Eve at approximately 12:33 EST EST. In the meantime, he added that the team is working hard on work, including Christmas Eve, to prepare for the flyby. However, the mission is largely, as Stern has indicated, as planned.
The only change will be that we will not be able to see the live coverage of the event NASA TV over the government shutdown that started at midnight on December 21st. Instead, Stern added that they will be streaming their coverage of the Youtube channel of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory .
"The pace of missionary activity at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory is intense and exciting," says Stern. "Missionary operations, encounter operations, navigational operations, and science team operations all run in parallel. We will find out soon. "