Visitor From Beyond the Kuiper Belt


On February 12/13, 2019 comet Iwamoto makes a rare visit to our corner of the universe. Discovered in 2018 by amateur Japanese astronomer Massayuki Iwamoto, his namesake passes harmlessly at a distance of 45 million km. with astronomical magnitude of +6.5 – too faint for the human eye, easily observed by backyard telescopes. With a wonky elliptical orbit of 1,371 years, comet Iwamoto hasn’t said hello since 648 AD and won’t be back until the year 3390. Point your telescope toward constellation Leo around midnight on the 12th to catch a glimpse of Iwamoto.

Comet Iwamoto (C/2018 Y1) hails from beyond the Kuiper Belt. Officially this Extreme Trans-Neptunian Object (ETNOs) comes from a distance 5 times greater than that of Pluto to the Sun. Regarded as a “dirty snowball” –

“The most popular theory about the nature of comets was put forward by American astronomer Fred Whipple, often known as the “grandfather” of modern cometary science. Whipple believed they were like dirty snowballs – large chunks of water ice and dust mixed with ammonia, methane and carbon dioxide. As the snowball approached the Sun, its outer ices began to vapourise, releasing large amounts of dust and gas which formed the characteristic tails.

Today, largely thanks to data from Giotto and the Russian Vega spacecraft, we now know that Whipple’s model was fairly accurate. A comet nucleus resembles a fluffy snowball (usually only a few kilometres across) coated with a crust of black material and spouting jets of vaporised ice.”

http://sci.esa.int/giotto/2396-about-comets/#P8_863

Only a handful of keeners will witness Iwamoto’s passing. Seeing it matters less than knowing it’s out there and tipping your hat to cosmic wonder.

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Ultima Thule, New Horizons, New Year And Brian May


 

In a few minutes space history will induct New Years Day 2019 into the cosmic hall of  fame. At 12:33 am EST on January 1, 2019 NASA’s New Horizons probe is tasked with making the farthest close approach fly-by of a space object in human history. Ultima Thule, a tiny Kuiper Belt object no more than 30 kilometers wide is about to be buzzed by the little mission that could. Linked below, a look no more definitive guide to NASA news conferences, live fly-by viewing and mission status.

http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/Where-to-Watch.php

Moments ago astrophysicist, New Horizons science collaborator and Queen guitarist Brian May premiered his first solo song in twenty years – New Horizons (Ultima Thule Mix), a tribute to twelve years of New Horizons and her brush with Ultima Thule.

Happy New Year.

Ultima Thule


A billion miles beyond Pluto, deep within mysteries of the Kuiper Belt resides object 2014 MU69 -otherwise known as Ultima Thule. On New Years Day, January 1, 2019, NASA will make space history when New Horizons buzzes past Ultima Thule, solidifying the farthest planetary flyby in human history.

On January 1st, 2019, shortly after the switch into the new year, New Horizons will make its close pass of Ultima Thule. Here’s what we’re poised to learn.NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker

Ultima Thule is the bright yellow spot in the middle. Image courtesy John Hopkins.

Passing at 2,200 miles, science hopes New Horizons can explain anomalous light reflected from Ultima Thule. Is Ultima Thule two orbiting objects, one elongated object, a miniscule planet orbited by many tiny light reflecting moons?

We’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, say Ultima Thule out loud – science fiction couldn’t script a better name for a mysterious cosmic object.

https://earthsky.org/space/new-horizons-approaching-ultima-thule-dec-2018

Help NASA Name MU69


Launched January 19, 2006 NASA’s New Horizons probe began a mission to explore Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. New Horizons made headlines in July 2015, fulfilling mission goals beyond our wildest dreams.Five billion kilometers from Earth, it took four and a half hours for messages to reach home, transmissions containing exquisite images of our solar system’s petticoat.

NASA issued fresh orders – cross 1.6 billion kilometers beyond Pluto to intercept asteroid 2014 MU69 on New Year’s Day 2019.

Artist’s concept of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft streaking past 2014 MU69 – which might be 2 objects orbiting each other – on January 1, 2019. Image via Carlos Hernandez/ NASA.

Mu69 is minuscule by cosmic standards. One, perhaps two oddly shaped binary objects no more than 20 kilometers across. Barely noticed until passing in front of a few stars last summer, now the focus of New Horizons and a NASA contest open to anyone interested in giving MU69 a nickname. The link below takes you to the contest home page – read existing entries, vote or nominate one of your own.

http://www.frontierworlds.org/

http://earthsky.org/space/help-nickname-new-horizons-next-target-2014-mu69?mc_cid=859e237850&mc_eid=a5b828713b

NASA Honors Second Anniversary Of New Horizons Pluto Encounter


Launched January 19, 2006 NASA’s New Horizons probe buckled down, unfazed by billions of miles between Earth and mission objectives – exploration of Pluto, Pluto’s moons and the Kuiper Belt. A few days ago, July 14, 2017 marked the second anniversary of New Horizons first fly-by of once a planet Pluto.

https://www.space.com/37485-new-horizons-pluto-flyby-anniversary-two-years.html

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft looked back toward the sun 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, capturing this near-sunset view of the dwarf planet’s icy mountains and flat ice plains. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) from Pluto; the scene is 780 miles (1,250 km) wide. – https://www.space.com/16533-pluto-new-horizons-spacecraft-pictures.html

Ponder New Horizons at – https://notestoponder.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/new-horizons-nearing-pluto/

To honour New Horizon’s second “closest fly-by” of Pluto anniversary, NASA released two short commemorative videos –

 

The magnitude of New Horizons defies comprehension, it’s tough to fathom 7.5 billion kilometers culminating in near perfect dalliance with outer edges of our solar system. Rather than dismiss New Horizons for lack of tangible perspectives, ponder distance and time traveled with new eyes. Invite New Horizons images for tea, sip politely, let cosmic wonder tickle your toes. Laugh out loud when I tell you New Horizons has enough spring in her step to cross 1.6 billion kilometers beyond Pluto for a hand shake with asteroid 2014 MU69 on January 1, 2019. Beyond that, New Horizons will wait as only good soldiers can. Ready to rise from trenches when fresh orders dictate another charge into the great unknown.

https://astronomynow.com/2017/01/22/new-horizons-to-continue-mission-of-discovery-with-kuiper-belt-encounter/

Help Find Planet 9


In January 2016 Caltech astronomers publicly theorized existence of a behemoth ninth planet orbiting the Sun.  Observations of orbital anomalies in the Kuiper Belt (a massive ring of cosmic debris extending beyond Neptune – home to once a planet Pluto and estimated 100,000 neighbors measuring over 100 Km ) hypothesized a yet to be discovered gargantuan mass was responsible for peculiar behavior of Kuiper Belt residents. In theory a planetary mass ten times greater than Earth, completes an elongated orbit a thousand times farther from the Sun once every 15-20 thousand years – astronomers dubbed it Planet 9.

This diagram show the orbits of several Kuiper Belt objects that were used to infer the existence of Planet 9. Image via ASU.

Contrary to conspiracy, alien, biblical and doomsday jibber-jabber, no proof of Planet 9 exists – science has a theory based on seven years of  sky maps courtesy the WISE space telescope (see link below). Launched in 2009, WISE was designed to detect low level infrared light, light emissions consistent with planets. WISE buckled down – over 750 million curious infrared light sources later, science needs our help.

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/wise/

If Planet 9 is out there, chances are WISE has digital proof somewhere within those 750 million and counting infrared hits. Missing are enough eyes to systematically scan images for indications an object moves “apart” from surrounding cosmic pixels. Enter Zooniverse Backyard Worlds –

“We need your help searching for new objects at the edges of our solar system. In this project, we’ll ask you to help us distinguish real celestial objects from image artifacts in data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. The real objects are brown dwarfs and low-mass stars, the Sun’s nearest neighbors. You may find an object closer than Proxima Centauri (the closest star to the Sun) or even discover the Sun’s hypothesized ninth planet, which models suggest might appear in these images.

What are the Sun’s nearest neighbors? You may have heard of Proxima Centauri, the star nearest the sun. But most of the Sun’s nearest neighbors are not stars, but brown dwarfs, balls of gas too big to be called planets but too small to be called stars. We’ve learned by extrapolating from recent discoveries that there is likely a hidden population of brown dwarfs floating by the solar system. This population contains the coldest known brown dwarfs, known as “Y dwarfs,” which are very similar to planets that just don’t orbit other stars. Together, we will try to find these rogue worlds to better understand how both stars and planets form.”

Backyard Worlds needs fresh eyes and plenty of them. Science doesn’t care who you are, what you do or if Kuiper Belt sounds like a foreign language – science needs help. Participants whose efforts lead to discovery will be given full credit. What are you waiting for? Join the search for Planet 9.

A previously cataloged brown dwarf named WISE 0855-0714 shows up as a moving orange dot (upper left) in this loop of WISE images spanning 5 years. By viewing movies like this, anyone can help discover more brown dwarfs or even a 9th planet. Image via ASU/ NASA/WISE.

http://earthsky.org/space/help-astronomers-look-for-planet-9?mc_cid=146840be1a&mc_eid=a5b828713b

https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/marckuchner/backyard-worlds-planet-9

Updating Pluto


Curious – ponder how quickly New Horizons Pluto mission evaporated from popular culture. Media hypes cosmic milestones for a day or two, the moment they stop trending, space exploration might try booking a booth at Comic Con. I wonder how many people could differentiate between New Horizons, Rosetta, Ceres…..

New Horizons left Cape Canaveral in January of 2006 – primary destination Pluto, with asteroid hat tips and cursory nod to Jupiter along the way. On July 14, 2015 New Horizons completed its first “fly-by” of Pluto – Pluto’s wonky orbit aside, an average of 6.09 billion kilometers from earth. Within days New Horizons tickled our fancies with thought provoking images of once a planet Pluto.

This week NASA released New Horizon’s finest work, detailed jaw droppers worthy of a last hurrah. Turns out New Horizons is one plucky little probe, delighting mission control with “can do” tenacity (and enough remaining fuel) to forge far beyond wildest dreams. “Nice to meet your acquaintance Pluto, I must be on my way, 2014 MU69 awaits”.

New Horizon’s fuel bonanza sent science to the Hubble Space Telescope. A billion miles beyond Pluto, Hubble identified “icy object” 2014 MU69 as a viable destination. This week NASA announced intent to reach it by 2019 – New Horizons is packing her bags while NASA waits for final funding approval.

Come on now, do the right thing. What’s the harm in another billion miles? Surely New Horizons attitude and lure of the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune count for something.(link to Kuiper Belt below)

http://www2.ess.ucla.edu/~jewitt/kb.html

While we wait for confirmation – New Horizons latest images of Pluto –

View larger. | Remember the beautiful image of the heart-shaped feature on Pluto? Here it is in closer detail. This image covers an area 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) across. Image via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

View larger. | Remember the beautiful image of the heart-shaped feature on Pluto? Here it is in closer detail. This image covers an area 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) across. Scientists call the heart-shaped feature Tombaugh Regio; it’s a smooth, icy plain. Image via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Some regions on Pluto are much darker than others. Scientists aren't sure why.

View larger. | Some regions on Pluto are much darker than others. Scientists aren’t sure why. Image via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Linked below – best picture gallery of New Horizons encounter with Pluto –

http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/Multimedia/Science-Photos/view.php?gallery_id=2