Weeks after NASA's New Horizons probe farthest visited an object more than 4 billion kilometers from Earth, the probe beamed an unprecedented photo home.
The image (below) is colorless and somewhat blurred, but presents the most detailed view of the object. Researchers say there are more and better images to come.
Early morning New Year's Day, NASA's nuclear-powered mission shot past the snowman-shaped object formally known as the (486958) 201
New Horizons flew within 2,200 miles . from MU69 at a speed of about 32,200 miles per hour, and data from the flyby give scientists an insight into the genesis of the solar system. Because Mu69 is so cold and far away, it's essentially the most original building block you've ever seen.
"That's exactly what we need to do to promote the modeling work for planet formation, because we see evidence here – akkatrieren here of objects and then combine them together," said Cathy Olkin, a deputy project scientist at the Mission New Horizons, at a press conference earlier this month.
However, as Olkin and his researchers have long known, it will take about 20 months – probably until the end of 2020 – to download all the data from New Horizons historical maneuver.
For this reason, the researchers have released the "best-yet view" of Mu69, which was just shown this Thursday – more than three weeks after the flyby.
In the comparison below, the left image is one of the first photos of The object was sent to Earth, photographed by New Horizons from about 85,000 miles away. On the right is the new image taken from a distance of 4,200 miles. Both are sharpened to show more detail.
The new photo is far from the last entry, however, to; New Horizons took hundreds of pictures during the flyby and recorded many other data.
"Next month, there will be better color images and higher resolution images we hope will solve the many secrets of Ultima Thule." Alan Stern, head of the New Horizons mission, said in a press release released Thursday.
Why it will take until 2020 to get the rest of the photos
When New Horizons passed Pluto in July 2015 – the first ever visit to the small planet – the probe took about 15 months to get all the data to Earth to send. In the case of Mu69, it takes about 20 months to send everything recorded on New Year's Day.
The wait is so long because of the hardware and distant locations of New Horizons.
NASA built its probe in the early 2000s and launched it in 2006 from Earth. While New Horizons systems are redundant and error-free, the electronics themselves are outdated by about 15 to 20 years.
Another bottleneck is the weak signal of the radio antenna of the spacecraft. Currently, its power is about 15 watts or one-quarter the power of a 60-watt incandescent lamp.
A third problem is that it sends more than 4 billion kilometers away. At this distance, every bit of digital data sent as light-speed radio waves takes more than six hours to reach antennas on Earth.
These factors slow down the probe output to below 1,200 bits per second, which is approximately 80,000 times slower than the average Internet download speed for broadband Internet in the US in 2018.
At this rate, it took weeks, to get enough pictures to make a small movie showing the rotation of MU69 spinning about every 16 hours.
19659003] The New Horizons team expects the highest resolution color images in February.
"We are cautiously optimistic that these highest resolution images will cover much of the surface," Stern said earlier this month. "Stay up to date for February."
Planetary scientists like Stern definitely want to see more, as the images and other data are meant to help solve some of the long-standing secrets of the 4.5-billion-year history of the solar system.
"It's like the first time Someone opened Pharaoh's grave and went in and you see what culture was like 1,000 years ago," he said. "Except that this examines the beginning of the solar system."
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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