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New Horizon's spacecraft provides its sharpest views of the Ultima Thule

The most detailed images of Ultima Thule – obtained a few minutes before the spacecraft's closest approach at 12:33 am EST on January 1 – has a resolution of about 110 meters ( 33 meters per pixel. Their combination of higher spatial resolution and favorable viewing geometry offers an unprecedented opportunity to explore the surface of Ultima Thule, which is believed to be the most primitive object ever encountered on spacecraft. This processed composite image combines nine individual images taken with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), each with an exposure time of 0.025 seconds, only 6½ minutes before the spacecraft's closest approach to Ultima Thule (officially designated 2014 MU69). The picture was taken at 5:26 UT on January 1, 2019, when the spacecraft was 4,109 km (6,628 kilometers) from Ultima Thule and 6.6 billion miles from Earth. The angle between the spacecraft, Ultima Thule and Sun – known as the "phase angle" – was 33 degrees. Credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute, National Observatory Astronomy ObservatoryThe mission team called it a "target" – just before the closest approach, pointing right at the cameras on NASA's New Horizons spaceship to capture the sharpest images on the Kuiper Belt object named Ultima Thule, New Years flyby target and furthest object ever examined. Now that New Horizons has sent the stored airplane images back to earth, the team can enthusiastically confirm that its ambitious goals were met. These new images of Ultima Thule – obtained by…



The most detailed images of Ultima Thule – obtained a few minutes before the spacecraft’s closest approach at 12:33 am EST on January 1 – has a resolution of about 110 meters ( 33 meters per pixel. Their combination of higher spatial resolution and favorable viewing geometry offers an unprecedented opportunity to explore the surface of Ultima Thule, which is believed to be the most primitive object ever encountered on spacecraft. This processed composite image combines nine individual images taken with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), each with an exposure time of 0.025 seconds, only 6½ minutes before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Ultima Thule (officially designated 2014 MU69). The picture was taken at 5:26 UT on January 1, 2019, when the spacecraft was 4,109 km (6,628 kilometers) from Ultima Thule and 6.6 billion miles from Earth. The angle between the spacecraft, Ultima Thule and Sun – known as the “phase angle” – was 33 degrees. Credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute, National Observatory Astronomy Observatory

The mission team called it a “target” – just before the closest approach, pointing right at the cameras on NASA’s New Horizons spaceship to capture the sharpest images on the Kuiper Belt object named Ultima Thule, New Years flyby target and furthest object ever examined.

Now that New Horizons has sent the stored airplane images back to earth, the team can enthusiastically confirm that its ambitious goals were met.

These new images of Ultima Thule – obtained by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) telescope just 6½ minutes before New Horizon’s closest approach to the object (officially named 2014 MU69) at 12:33 EST on January 1 – offer a resolution of about 33 meters per pixel. Their combination of high spatial resolution and a favorable viewing angle gives the team an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the surface, as well as the emergence and evolution of Ultima Thule – thought to be the most primitive object ever encountered on spacecraft.

“Prick!” said New Horizon’s lead researcher Alan Stern, the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). “Getting these pictures required us to know exactly where both Ultima and New Horizons were at the moment – when they passed each other over 32,000 miles an hour in the dim light of the Kuiper belt, one billion miles beyond Pluto. observation than we had tried in our Pluto-flyby 2015.

“These” stretch targets “observations were risky because there was a real chance that we would only get part or even none of Ultima in the camera’s narrow field viewpoint, continued he. “But the science, operation and navigation law nailed it, and the result is a field day for our science team! Some of the details we now see on the Ultima Thule’s surface are unlike any object ever explored before.”

Researchers from New Horizons created this movie from 14 different images taken by the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) just before the spacecraft flew past the Kuiper Belt object named Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69) on January 1, 2019. The central framework of this sequence was taken January 1 at 5:26:54 UT (12:26 AM EST), when the new Horizons was 4,117 kilometers from Ultima Thule, about 4.1 billion miles from Earth. Ultima Thule almost fills the LORRI image and is completely trapped in the frames, an astounding technical achievement given Ultima’s insecure location. Thule and New Horizon’s spacecraft fly over it over 32,000 miles per hour. Credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

The higher resolution provides a variety of surface features like wer It is easily apparent in previous images. Among them are several bright, enigmatic, roughly circular terrain tracks. In addition, many small, dark pits near the terminator (the boundary between the sunlit and dark sides of the body) are better resolved. “If these features are craters produced by bumpers, sublimation pits, collapse dumps or anything else, discussed in our science team,” says John Spencer, assistant project researcher from SwRI.

Project researcher Hal Weaver, by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, noted that recent images have the highest spatial resolution of new horizons taken – or may ever take – throughout the mission. Swooping within just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) flew New Horizons about three times closer to Ultima than it zipped past its primary target, Pluto, in July 2015.

Ultima Thule is smaller than Pluto, but Ultima Flyby was finished with it highest navigation precision ever achieved by any spacecraft. This unparalleled precision was achieved thanks to the 2017 and 2018-based baseline campaigns conducted in Argentina, Senegal, South Africa and Colombia, as well as the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission, which provided the sites for the stars used during occult campaigns.

Look for these and other LORRI images on the new Horizon LORRI site this week. Red photos from the camera are sent to the site every Friday.

Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman, APL, reports that the spacecraft continues to work flawlessly. New Horizons is nearly 4.13 billion miles from Earth; At that distance, the radio signals, which travel at light speed, reach the large antennas of NASA’s Deep Space Network six hours and nine minutes after New Horizons sent them. Follow the new horizons in turn through the Kuiper Belt.


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New Horizon’s newest and best end at Ultima Thule

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