2023 Author: Bryan Walter | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 22:24
The automatic interplanetary station New Horizons made a new successful trajectory correction on the way to its new target - the object 2014 MU69 from the Kuiper belt, which the probe will fly by on January 1, 2019. At the same time, the unit took a new picture of its target, according to the mission's website.
New Horizons is the first spacecraft to fly past Pluto at close range. Thanks to the data collected over several days, astronomers learned that Pluto has cryovolcanoes, glaciers, mountain ranges and signs of a subsurface ocean, and also saw its moons Charon, Nikta, Hydra and Kerber for the first time in detail. It took more than fifteen months to transfer the accumulated information. After the flyby in 2015, the mission's leadership decided to explore the Kuiper belt, located at a distance of 30–55 astronomical units from the Sun, and containing bodies left after the formation of the solar system, in the period from 2016 to 2021. The collected data will help to better understand the composition of the protoplanetary disk and the formation mechanisms of our planetary system.
The device is now on its way to its new target, the object 2014 MU69 or Ultima Thule (the name was given in honor of the mythical island in the north of Europe in ancient and medieval literature and cartography), to which it will arrive at the end of December 2018. It is a trans-Neptunian Kuiper belt object that orbits the Sun once in 295 years. It is speculated that it may be an ice-rock body, and observations by Hubble have shown that the color of the surface may have a reddish tint. Preliminary estimates of the object's size were initially in the range from 20 to 40 kilometers, but later, based on the results of a large-scale campaign of observations of three transit events of the object 2014 MU69 through the disks of distant stars, it was determined that 2014 MU69 is most likely either a triple system consisting of a close binary (or contact binary) system of bodies about 15–20 kilometers in diameter, revolving around a common center of mass, and a small satellite; or a binary system consisting of a highly elongated large asteroid, about thirty kilometers in length, and a small satellite.
On August 16, 2018, New Horizons received the first snapshot of its new target, and recently found new evidence for the existence of a "hydrogen wall" on the outskirts of the solar system. On December 2, 2018, the apparatus, as part of a new trajectory correction maneuver, made a 105-second turn on of the engine, which changed its trajectory and increased its speed by one meter per second. At that moment, the station was at a distance of 6, 48 billion kilometers from the Earth, breaking its previous record for the range of such maneuvers. 33 hours before the course correction maneuver, the station using the LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera received a series of 10 images, from which a new Ultima Thule image was assembled. At the time of this survey, the distance between the station and its target was approximately 38.7 million kilometers.
In the future, three more maneuvers are planned to direct the station through a window measuring 120 by 320 kilometers and make a 140-second flight past the 2014 MU69 facility, it is assumed that it will take place on January 1, 2019, at 17:33 GMT, the minimum distance to 2014 MU69 will be about 3,500 kilometers, which will provide image resolution up to thirty meters per pixel (twice better than images of Pluto's surface).
During the rendezvous, the scientific instruments and cameras of the apparatus must show how many bodies the object actually consists of, whether it has a satellite or dust rings, tell about the geological features, topography and composition of the surface and whether they have a gas coma. The transfer of the collected data to Earth will continue until the fall of 2020. At the same time, the study of this object is the central, but not the only task of the apparatus - it will study from a distance about 30 more objects of the Kuiper belt, as well as study the plasma, gaseous and dusty environment around it.
Read more about the discoveries made by the New Horizons apparatus in our material and on a special page.