Thursday January 23, 2020
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Clearer Images Of Ultima Thule By NASA’s New Horizons

With an original resolution of 135 metres per pixel, the image was stored in the spacecraft's data memory and transmitted to Earth on January 18-19. 

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Pluto, NASA, new horizons
This illustration provided by NASA shows the New Horizons spacecraft. NASA launched the probe in 2006; it’s about the size of a baby grand piano. VOA

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has beamed back the clearest view yet of the most distant object ever explored — the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) 2014 MU69 nicknamed Ultima Thule.

On January 1, the spacecraft zipped past the ancient Ultima Thule, setting the record for flyby of the most distant planetary object in history.

“The new image, taken during the historic flyby is the clearest view yet of this remarkable, ancient object in the far reaches of the solar system – and the first small ‘KBO’ ever explored by a spacecraft,” NASA said in a statement.

The oblique lighting of the image reveals new topographic details — numerous small pits up to about 0.7 km in diameter — along the day or night boundary, or terminator, near the top.

Ultima Thule
The Ultima Thule.

The image also shows large circular feature, about 7 km across, and on the smaller of the two lobes appears as a deep depression.

However, it is not clear whether these pits are impact craters or features resulting from other processes, such as “collapse pits” or the ancient venting of volatile materials, NASA said.

Both lobes also show many intriguing light and dark patterns of unknown origin, which may reveal clues about how this body was assembled during the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

One of the most striking of these is the bright “collar” separating the two lobes.

“This new image is starting to reveal differences in the geologic character of the two lobes of Ultima Thule, and is presenting us with new mysteries as well,” said Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

NASA, earth
New Horizons project scientist Hal Weaver, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, speaks about new data received from the New Horizons spacecraft during a press conference after the spacecraft completed a flyby of Ultima Thule, Jan. 1, 2019. VOA

“Over the next month there will be better colour and better resolution images that we hope will help unravel the many mysteries of Ultima Thule,” Stern added.

The image, obtained with the wide-angle Multicolour Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) component of New Horizons’ Ralph instrument, was taken when the KBO was 6,700 km from the spacecraft, at 12.26 a.m. on January 1 — just seven minutes before closest approach.

Also Read: New Horizons Spacecraft by NASA Detects Anomaly Ahead of Next Flyby

With an original resolution of 135 metres per pixel, the image was stored in the spacecraft’s data memory and transmitted to Earth on January 18-19.

New Horizons is approximately 6.64 billion kilometres from Earth, operating normally and speeding away from the Sun (and Ultima Thule) at more than 50,700 km per hour. (IANS)

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SpaceX Plans To Send NASA Astronauts To Space in Q2 This Year

As part of the test on Sunday, SpaceX configured Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape about 1.5 minutes after liftoff

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NASA
It took a lot of work between NASA and SpaceX to get to this point. Pixabay

After NASA and SpaceX successfully completed a launch escape demonstration of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, Elon Musk said that his aerospace company aims to send NASA astronauts to space between April and June this year.

This was the final major flight test of the spacecraft before it begins carrying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme, the US space agency said in a statement on Sunday.

With this test now complete, the next big flight of the Crew Dragon will have people on board: NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

“We’re highly confident that the hardware will be ready in Q1, most likely at the end of February but no later than March. And we think it appears probable that the first crewed launch would occur in the second quarter,” said Musk after the successful uncrewed test of its Crew Dragon capsule’s in-flight launch escape capabilities.

Musk said that if all goes well, the first crewed flight on the Crew Dragon could take place in the second quarter of this year.

“This critical flight test puts us on the cusp of returning the capability to launch astronauts in American spacecraft on American rockets from American soil,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We are thrilled with the progress NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme is making and look forward to the next milestone for Crew Dragon.”

As part of the test on Sunday, SpaceX configured Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape about 1.5 minutes after liftoff. All major functions were executed, including separation, engine firings, parachute deployment and landing. Crew Dragon splashed down at 10:38 am just off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean.

“As far as we can tell thus far, it’s a picture perfect mission. It went as well as one can possibly expect,” said Musk. “This is a reflection of the dedication and hard work of the SpaceX and NASA teams to achieve this goal. Obviously, I’m super fired up. This is great.”

NASA
After NASA and SpaceX successfully completed a launch escape demonstration of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, Elon Musk said that his aerospace company aims to send NASA astronauts to space between April and June this year. Wikimedia Commons

Prior to the flight test, teams completed launch day procedures for the first crewed flight test, from suit-up to launch pad operations. The joint teams now will begin the full data reviews that need to be completed prior to NASA astronauts flying the system during SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission. “The past few days have been an incredible experience for us,” said astronaut Doug Hurley.

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“Today, we watched the demonstration of a system that we hope to never use, but can save lives if we ever do. It took a lot of work between NASA and SpaceX to get to this point, and we can’t wait to take a ride to the space station soon,” he said in the NASA statement. (IANS)