Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Ultima Thule Grows Brighter as New Horizons Approaches

Each half of this stereo pair of images — created from LORRI images by astrophysicist and New Horizons science team collaborator Dr. Brian May — represents a combination of several dozen images taken to search for faint companions, rings and dust clouds around Ultima.  The first sequence was taken on Dec. 6, when New Horizons was approximately 19,963,400 miles (32,128,000 kilometers) from Ultima. It includes 61 images of 30 about seconds each, for a total exposure time of about 30 minutes.   The second sequence was obtained a week later, on Dec. 13, when New Horizons had closed to within 14,638,880 miles (about 23,559,000 kilometers) of Ultima. It contains 40 30-second images, totaling 20 minutes of total exposure.   Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Brian May

After almost three weeks of sensitive searches for rings, small moons and other potential hazards around Ultima Thule – and seeing none –New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern opted last week for the project to remain on a path that takes it about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) from Ultima, instead of a hazard-avoiding detour that would have pushed it three times farther out.

The dozen-member New Horizons hazard watch team used the spacecraft's most powerful telescopic camera, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), to look for potential hazards. Examples of some of the images the team used to conduct its "deep" searches are below.

As seen from the spacecraft, Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69) appears to be in the constellation of Sagittarius, hovering in front of the heart of the Milky Way, not far from the central plane of our galaxy. The image field is filled with stars in the most crowded and rich area of the sky.

Each half of this stereo pair of images — created from LORRI images by astrophysicist and New Horizons science team collaborator Dr. Brian May — represents a combination of several dozen images taken to search for faint companions, rings and dust clouds around Ultima.

The first sequence was taken on Dec. 6, when New Horizons was approximately 19,963,400 miles (32,128,000 kilometers) from Ultima. It includes 61 images of 30 about seconds each, for a total exposure time of about 30 minutes.

The second sequence was obtained a week later, on Dec. 13, when New Horizons had closed to within 14,638,880 miles (about 23,559,000 kilometers) of Ultima. It contains 40 30-second images, totaling 20 minutes of total exposure.

The arrow marks the location of Ultima Thule in each sequence.

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