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NASA Claims That No Evidence of Atmosphere is Found on Ultima Thule

The New Horizons flyby of Ultima Thule could help scientists better understand what conditions were like when our Solar System formed billions of years ago

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NASA, Hubble, Keplar, asteroids
Nasa's Opportunity rover might have 'died' on Mars. Flickr

New Horizons spacecraft which explored the ancient Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule, earlier this week, has yielded that the distant object has no evidence of an atmosphere, NASA has said.

New Horizons completed the farthest flyby in history when it came within about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometres) of Ultima Thule at 12.33 a.m. EST on January 1, zooming past the object at more than 32,000 miles (51,000 kilometres) per hour.

Data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is yielding scientific discoveries daily.

 Besides finding no evidence of an atmosphere, the initial data analysis also found no evidence of rings or satellites larger than one mile in diameter orbiting Ultima Thule, the US space agency said in a statement on Thursday.

The colour of Ultima Thule matches the colour of similar worlds in the Kuiper Belt, as determined by telescopic measurements.

The two lobes of Ultima Thule — the first Kuiper Belt contact binary visited — are nearly identical in colour. This matches what we know about binary systems which haven’t come into contact with each other, but rather orbit around a shared point of gravity, NASA said.

“The first exploration of a small Kuiper Belt object and the most distant exploration of any world in history is now history, but almost all of the data analysis lies in the future,” said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

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Data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is yielding scientific discoveries daily. Flcikr

Data transmission from New Horizons will pause for about a week while the spacecraft passes behind the Sun as seen from here on Earth. Data transmission resumes January 10, starting a 20-month download of the spacecraft’s remaining scientific treasures.

“Those of us on the science team can’t wait to begin to start digging into that treasure trove,” Stern noted.

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Located 6.5 billion kilometres from Earth, Ultima Thule means “beyond the known world”.

The New Horizons flyby of Ultima Thule could help scientists better understand what conditions were like when our Solar System formed billions of years ago.

New Horizons’ extended mission also includes observations of more than two-dozen other Kuiper Belt objects, as well as measurements of the plasma, gas and dust environment of the Kuiper Belt. (IANS)

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Scientists Analysing Images Taken by NASA of Vikram Moon Lander

Therefore, it could be difficult to identify right now (and it) may be a little longer before we have another opportunity

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Scientists, Images, NASA
But he added, "It is important to remember that the illumination conditions right now where the lander may be are harsh." Pixabay

Scientists are analysing the images taken under harsh light conditions by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Camera of the area where the Vikram moon lander is likely to have touched down on the moon and it may be a while before they can locate it, project experts told IANS.

LRO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Noah Petro, said on Wednesday that they were now analysing the images taken on Tuesday “and we will make a statement at some point when we can identify the lander.”

But he added, “It is important to remember that the illumination conditions right now where the lander may be are harsh.”

Therefore, it “could be difficult to identify right now (and it) may be a little longer before we have another opportunity to image the landing site next October 14” when the LRO next passes over that area of the moon.

Scientists, Images, NASA
Scientists are analysing the images taken under harsh light conditions by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Camera of the area. Pixabay

The principal investigator for the LRO camera, Mark Robinson of Arizona State University, said that the last image of the area was acquired on Wednesday and will take time to analyse as there are “lots and lots and lots of pixels” to go through.

A NASA statement carried a note of caution saying that when the LRO flew over the Vikram landing the “local lunar time was near dusk; large shadows covered much of the area.”

The LROC “acquired images around the targeted landing site, but the exact location of the lander was not known so the lander may not be in the camera field of view,” NASA said.

“The LROC team will analyze these new images and compare them to previous images to see if the lander is visible (it may be in shadow or outside the imaged area),” it added.

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Vikram lost contact with the Indian Space Research Organisation after it was launched by the Chandraayan 2 moon orbiter to touch down in the area of the moon’s south pole on September 6.

After following the intended trajectory, it deviated in the final moments during the last two kilometres of the descent and went silent.

Vikram carried a rover called Pragyan that was to have conducted experiments on the moon’s surface.

Aviation Week created some confusion on Wednesday with an erroneous headline, “NASA’s LRO fails to spot Chandraayan 2 Lander,” which was picked up by others.

Scientists, Images, NASA
LRO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Noah Petro, said on Wednesday that they were now analysing the images taken on Tuesday “and we will make a statement at some point . Pixabay

Both the scientists IANS spoke to said the headline was wrong.

Robinson said: “They are rather astonishing because we haven’t had the images to look at yet. I don’t know where that came from.”

Petro said, “The headline is wrong. That was actually posted even before we had the data on the ground.”

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The publication later changed the headline to “NASA’s LRO Begins Search For Silent Chandrayaan-2 Lander.” (IANS)