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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.

NASA, tissue
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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NASA Probe Makes New Discoveries on Asteroid Bennu

As a result, Bennu's rotation period is decreasing by about a second every 100 years, the scientists explained

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Asteroid
This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu. NASA

NASA’s first asteroid-sampling mission OSIRIS-REx has observed particle plumes erupting from the surface of Bennu, an asteroid the size of the pyramid at Giza.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft, which began orbiting Bennu on December 31, first discovered the particle plumes on January 6, followed by additional particle plumes over the last two months.

While some of the particles were slow-moving, the others were found orbiting Bennu, like small satellites.

Bennu’s entire surface was also found to be rough and dense with boulders, contrary to the Earth-based observations, which showed a smooth surface with a few large boulders.

This means that the sample collection part of the mission will have to be adjusted to make sure that OSIRIS-REx can touch down and collect a sample, said NASA while presenting the discoveries at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Conference in Houston.

“The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

NASA
This artist’s rendering made available by NASA in July 2016 shows the mapping of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. VOA

“And the rugged terrain went against all of our predictions. Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started,” Lauretta added.

Further, the team observed a change in the spin rate of Bennu as a result of what is known as the Yarkovsky-O’Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack (YORP) effect.

The uneven heating and cooling of Bennu as it rotates in sunlight is causing the asteroid to increase its rotation speed.

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As a result, Bennu’s rotation period is decreasing by about a second every 100 years, the scientists explained.

OSIRIS-REx launched in 2016 to explore Bennu, the smallest body ever orbited by spacecraft, is expected to return a sample of the asteroid to Earth in 2023.

The findings will allow researchers to learn more about the origins of our solar system, the sources of water and organic molecules on Earth, the resources in near-Earth space, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth. (IANS)