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.


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.


Apollo 8, A Story of Christmas Around the Moon

December 21, 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of NASA’s momentous Apollo 8 mission. Three days after launch, on Christmas Eve 1968, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders became the first humans to orbit the Moon, the first to see an Earthrise above the lunar surface. Ponder NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine as he looks back on Apollo 8.


Jovian Close Encounter

October 29, 2018  7,000 kilometers above the cloud tops of Jupiter, NASA orbiter Juno captured this image –

Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran


Citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran created this color-enhanced image using data from the spacecraft’s JunoCam imager. JunoCam’s raw images are available for the public to peruse and to process into image products here.

Hubble Coma Eclipsed By Death Of Kepler

October 5, 2018 – NASA announced Hubble slept in a scientifically induced coma. One of three gyroscopes tasked with pointing/steadying Hubble’s telescope malfunctioned, NASA placed Hubble in “safe mode” buying time to find a fix. On October 27, recovery and implementation of a back-up gyro returned Hubble to fully operational mission status.Launched in 1990 by Space Shuttle Discovery, initial life expectancy was 15 years. 28 years later and counting, NASA optimistically suggests tenacious little Hubble might hang in there for 10-20 more. Ponder this –


Image result for hubble famous images

View top 10 Hubble images at – https://www.scientificamerican.com/slideshow/top-10-images-taken-by-the-hubble-space-telescope/

More troublesome than fretting over a briefly comatose Hubble, is news of Kepler’s demise. Launched in 2009, Kepler searched for alien worlds using the “transit method” ( identifying exoplanets by recognizing diminished light when planets pass in front of their Sun ). Of 3,800 confirmed exoplanets known to date, 70% were discovered by Kepler. Ponder – https://www.space.com/21172-greatest-alien-planet-discoveries-nasa-kepler.html

Science always knew Kepler’s fuel would run dry. Confirmation of Kepler’s passing wasn’t unexpected. That said, in my heart of hearts I imagined a period of remission. RIP Kepler, you served humanity well.


Close Encounter With Asteroid 2018 UA

On the morning of October 19, 2018 astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona detected and named asteroid 2018 UA. A short time later, traveling at 50,760 Km/hour 2018 UA passed at a distance of 7,300 – 15,350 kilometers. For perspective, television satellites orbit at more than 35,000 kilometers. 2018 UA became the 4th closest asteroid approach in recorded history.

Earth was never in danger, at 3-6 meters in diameter 2018 UA would disintegrate on contact with our atmosphere. At worst a meteoric fireball visible in the light of day might herald 2018 UA’s fiery demise. As it was, 90 minutes separated 2018 UA from initial discovery to near earth cosmic footnote. 90 minutes is worth pondering.

Asteroids are sneaky, cosmic debris ricochets at will. Without prediction, apology or reason, asteroids can appear with very little warning.

In 1998 NASA established NEO, the Near Earth Objects Observation program, administered by JPL ( NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory).  In 2016 NASA launched PDCO ( Planetary Defense Coordination Office ), consequently NEO inherited the moniker CNEOS, (Center For Near Earth Object Studies ) .From NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory –

The first and most important step in assessing the impact risk of an asteroid or comet is to determine whether any given object’s orbit will cross Earth’s orbit — and then how close it will actually get to our planet. JPL was determining high-precision orbits for a few NEOs even before NASA launched its NEO Observations Program, and has since upgraded its orbit models to provide the most accurate assessment available for asteroid positions and orbits.

Observatories around the world take digital images of the sky to detect moving points of light (the asteroid or comet) over days, weeks, months (and even decades!), and then report the positions of these moving objects relative to the static background of stars to the Minor Planet Center. See “How a Speck of Light Becomes an Asteroid”.The CNEOS scientists then use all this observation data to more precisely calculate an NEO’s orbit and predict its motion forward in time for many years, looking for close approaches and potential impacts to the Earth, its Moon, and other planets.

A CNEOS system called “Sentry” searches ahead for all potential future Earth impact possibilities over the next hundred years — for every known NEO. Sentry’s impact monitoring runs continually using the latest CNEOS generated orbit models, and the results are stored online.In most cases so far, the probabilities of any potential impacts are extremely small, and in other cases, the objects themselves are so small — less than 20 meters in size, or nearly 66 feet — that they would almost certainly disintegrate even if they did enter Earth’s atmosphere.

“If Sentry finds potential impacts for an object, we add it to our online ‘impact risk’ table, and asteroid observers can then prioritize that object for further observation,” said Steve Chesley of JPL, a member of the CNEOS team who was the main developer of the Sentry system. “The more measurements made of the object’s position over time, the better we can predict its future path.”

“In most cases, the new measurements mean the object can be removed from the risk list because the uncertainties in the orbital path are reduced and the possibility of impact is ruled out,” Chesley said.

More recently, CNEOS also developed a system called Scout to provide more immediate and automatic trajectory analyses for the most recently discovered objects, even before independent observatories confirm their discovery. Operating around the clock, the Scout system not only notifies observers of the highest priority objects to observe at any given time, it also immediately alerts the Planetary Defense Coordination Office of any possible imminent impacts within the next few hours or days.A recent example is the Scout-predicted impact of the small asteroid 2018 LA over Botswana, Africa.



Image result for asteroid 2018 ua

In the span of 90 minutes 2018 UA went from discovery to fourth closest asteroid approach in recorded history.

Ponder Mars Rover Curiosity Announcement

Mars rover Curiosity is on a mission to investigate Mars’ past ability to support microbial life. Exploration began when Curiosity touched down on the floor of 154 kilometer wide Gale Crater in August 2012. It didn’t take long for Curiosity core samples to indicate Gale Crater could have supported a habitable lake and stream system in the ancient past. At the centre of Gale, Mount Sharp rises 5.5 kilometers above the Martian surface. Curiosity reached the base of Mt. Sharp in September 2014. Curiosity set a course for the summit, collecting core samples along the way. All good until late 2016 when Curiosity lost the use of her robotic drill.

NASA engineers worked tirelessly to find a solution. On February 26, 2018 a test fix culminated in Curiosity boring a 1.3 centimeter deep hole. A few adjustments later the little rover that could drilled without hesitation.

This week NASA made a curious announcement. On Thursday June 7, 2018 at 2 pm EDT a live news conference will reveal something Curiosity discovered on Mars.


“NASA will hold a press conference Thursday, June 7, 2018, to announce a new discovery on Mars from the Curiosity rover. Here, Curiosity snaps a selfie while perched on Vera Rubin Ridge on Mars in February 2018.”

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

From https://www.space.com/40792-nasa-mars-rover-curiosity-announcement-june-2018.html

“The space agency revealed few details about what will be announced Thursday, but the “live discussion” will feature “new science results from NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover,” according to a NASA announcement. Why all the secrecy? “The results are embargoed by the journal Science until then,” NASA wrote in the statement.

That means NASA won’t release any details until the press conference, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) on Thursday. You can watch the Mars announcement live on Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV. The space agency did reveal the list of scientists who will be discussing the Mars discovery. [See Curiosity’s Greatest Mars Discoveries (So Far)]