“It’s Happening: NASA Team Begins Final Countdown For Historic New Year’s Eve Flyby Of The Farthest And Most Primitive Object Humankind Has EVER Visited; Ultima Thule Linked To The Birth Of The Milky Way 4.5B Years Ago”

“It’s Happening: NASA Team Begins Final Countdown For Historic New Year’s Eve Flyby Of The Farthest And Most Primitive Object Humankind Has EVER Visited; Ultima Thule Linked To The Birth Of The Milky Way 4.5B Years Ago”
     Shortly after we ring in the new year, at 12:33 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST), January 1, 2019, NASA’s New Horizons probe will “fly past the mysterious object – Ultima Thule — a mysterious world with ties to the birth of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago,” Ms. Cheyenne Macdonald and Mark Prigg wrote in the December 31, 2018 edition of the DailyMail.com. NASA’s lead scientist Alan Stern said Monday, that “the team had worked years for this moment and it’s now happening.”
     “However,” as the DailyMail notes, “the drama will unfold 4 billion (6.5 billion kilometers) from Earth, so far away it will be 10 hours before flight controllers in Laurel, Maryland, know whether the spacecraft survived the encounter. A guitar anthem recorded the legendary Queen guitarist Brian May — who also holds an advanced degree in astrophysics — will be released just after midnight, to accompany a video simulation of the flyby, as NASA commentators describe the close pass on http://www.nasa.gov/nasalive.”
     “Real-time video of the actual flyby is impossible, since it takes more than six hours for a signal sent from Earth to reach the spaceship, named New Horizons, and another six hours for the response to arrive,” the DailyMail noted. “But, if all goes well, the first images should be in hand by the end of New Year’s Day.”
     “At closest approach, we’re going to try to image Ultima at three times the resolution we had for Pluto,” Dr. Stern said. “If we can accomplish that, it will be spectacular.”
     The DailyMail notes “the flyby will be fast, at a speed of nine miles (14 kilometers) per second. Seven instruments on board will record high-resolution images ; and, gather data about Ultima Thule’s size and composition. Its an event many years in the making — and one for a brief period, appeared hobbled by the government shutdown — but, in a last-minute stroke of good fortune, everything is now back on track for the space agency’s live coverage next week.”
     “New Horizon’s story begins nearly two decades ago, though the effort to send a spacecraft to Pluto started about 12 years earlier,” Dr. Stern said. “The craft was born 18 exactly years ago, in December 2000, and a small team of about 50 individuals has been working on it ever since,” the DailyMail noted. “New Horizons, which is about the size of a baby grand piano, is expected to get within 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of Ultima Thule.
     “Because of the distance of 6 billion kilometers, it’s going to take us 20 months to get all the data back, because data transmission speed from that distance is slow,” Dr. Stern said. “We’ll be sending back data about Ultima Thule for all of 2019, and most of 2020, until August or September,” he added. “The first picture will get to Earth on New Year’s Day, though this will only reveal Ultima Thule’s shape. It will be a few pixels, just a smudge. Finer details are expected to come in the days to follow, with surface features coming to light on January 3rd or January 4th. All of next week, Ultima is going to go from a dot in the distance, to a real world.”
     And, there is a lot to discover/learn. The Daily Mail notes that “at the moment, it is unclear whether Ultima Thule is a single object, a binary system, or a collection of many. But, what’s certain is that it will be unlike anything humanity has achieved before.” “No one’s been to anything like this — not just this far out; but, we’ve never been to an object born so long ago that’s never been modified,” Dr. Stern said. “So, we’ll just have to wait and see. It’s like digging a time piece out, from an archaeological dig, that’s four-and-one-half billion years old. It’s just mind-blowing to even think about the concept.”
    As Noah Taylor Redd wrote on the December 31, 2018 edition of Space.com, “lying at the outskirts of the solar system, Pluto may seem alone at first glance. Only in the last few decades have scientists realized that it is one of a collection of objects that make up the Kuiper Belt, a band of rocky, icy objects that border the solar system. Smaller than planets, most of the inhabitants are left over from the formation of the solar system/The Milky Way. They provide a glimpse of the early ingredients of the solar system, the bits and pieces that formed the larger worlds we know today.”
     “When New Horizons launched in 2006, no one knew anything about Ultima Thule,” Mr. Taylor Redd wrote. “Scientists didn’t discover the spacecraft’s next target until 2014, MU69, Ultima Thule was one of three objects proposed for an extended mission target. Since its 2015 selection as the next object for New Horizons to visit, scientists have scrambled to learn as much about Ultima Thule as possible. In 2017, they learned the Kuiper Belt Object(KBO)/Uttima Thule was not spherical; but, seemed elongated, or possibly even made up of two orbiting bodies.”
     “In fact, it’s still possible that Ultima Thule is made up of not one, but two objects, closely packed together,” Mr. Taylor Redd wrote. Dr. Stern told space.com Saturday (Dec. 29), that the timeline for resolving whether the KBO is alone, or part of a duet depends on how close the potential pair lie to one another. If they are touching, it will take at least a day,” he told space.com.
     Project scientist, Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University, is excited about visiting KBO,” Mr. Taylor Redd wrote, which he said is “unlike anything else we’ve ever looked at with spacecraft.”
     “Whatever New Horizons reveals, it will definitely be something that has never been seen before,” at least by Earthlings, Mr. Taylor Redd wrote. “We anticipate there will be lots of results, even though Ultima Thule has been very stubborn about revealing its secrets,” Dr. Weaver said.
     Very exciting stuff. So, while we’re watching college football games tomorrow and celebrating New Year’s Day, humankind will also be getting its first look at an object that was involved in the formation of the Milky Way; and thus, our very existence. I refer you to NASA’s TV channel tomorrow afternoon to get an update on this historic and awesome event.  RCP, fortunascorner.com

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