Tuesday November 12, 2019
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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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NASA Telescope Captures Record-Breaking Thermonuclear X-Ray Flash: ’Burst was Outstanding’

The observations reveal many phenomena that have never been seen together in a single burst

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NASA, Telescope, Thermonuclear
The X-ray burst, the brightest seen by NICER so far, came from an object named "J1808". Wikimedia Commons

NASA has detected a massive thermonuclear explosion coming from outer space, caused by a massive thermonuclear flash on the surface of a pulsar — the crushed remains of a star that long ago exploded as a supernova.

The explosion released as much energy in 20 seconds as the Sun does in nearly 10 days.

NASA’s Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope on the International Space Station (ISS) detected a sudden spike of X-rays on August 20, reports the US space agency.

The X-ray burst, the brightest seen by NICER so far, came from an object named “J1808”.

NASA, Telescope, Thermonuclear
The explosion released as much energy in 20 seconds as the Sun does in nearly 10 days. Pixabay

The observations reveal many phenomena that have never been seen together in a single burst.

In addition, the subsiding fireball briefly brightened again for reasons astronomers cannot yet explain.

“This burst was outstanding. We see a two-step change in brightness, which we think is caused by the ejection of separate layers from the pulsar surface, and other features that will help us decode the physics of these powerful events,” said lead researcher Peter Bult, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

The detail NICER captured on this record-setting eruption will help astronomers fine-tune their understanding of the physical processes driving the thermonuclear flare-ups of it and other bursting pulsars.

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“J1808” is located about 11,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius.

It spins at a dizzying 401 rotations each second, and is one member of a binary system. Its companion is a brown dwarf, an object larger than a giant planet yet too small to be a star. A steady stream of hydrogen gas flows from the companion toward the neutron star, and it accumulates in a vast storage structure called an accretion disk.

Astronomers employ a concept called the “Eddington limit”, named after English astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, to describe the maximum radiation intensity a star can have before that radiation causes the star to expand.

This point depends strongly on the composition of the material lying above the emission source.

NASA, Telescope, Thermonuclear
NASA’s Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope on the International Space Station (ISS) detected a sudden spike of X-rays on August 20, reports the US space agency. Pixabay

“Our study exploits this longstanding concept in a new way,” said co-author Deepto Chakrabarty, a professor of physics at MIT.

“We are apparently seeing the Eddington limit for two different compositions in the same X-ray burst. This is a very powerful and direct way of following the nuclear burning reactions that underlie the event.”

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A paper describing the findings has been published by The Astrophysical Journal Letters. (IANS)