Space...The final frontier

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January 1st, 2019 at 8:58:12 AM permalink
beachbumbabs
Member since: Sep 3, 2013
Threads: 6
Posts: 1553
This is where I want my 2019 to start. This is a terrific writeup of an astounding event that happened this morning, and will not otherwise get the coverage it deserves. So much great information here, allowing peo people to dream along with the scientists, that I had to bring the full story in front of the paywall. (I subscribe : there are amazing pictures there, so please try to use the link first, but if you get stopped, the text is below). Cheers!



NASA spacecraft sends back signal from most distant object humans have ever explored
https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2018/12/31/most-distant-space-encounter-history-is-happening-now/


The nerdiest New Year’s party in the solar system happened 4 billion miles from Earth, where a lone, intrepid spacecraft just flew past the farthest object humans have ever explored.

There was no champagne in this dim and distant region, where a halo of icy worlds called the Kuiper belt circles the outermost edge of the solar system. There were no renditions of “Auld Lang Syne” (in space, no one can hear you sing).

But there was a minivan-size spacecraft called New Horizons. And there was a puny, primitive object called Ultima Thule, a rocky relic of the solar system’s origins, whose name means “beyond the borders of the known world.”

At New Horizon’s birthplace, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., scores of space scientists gathered Tuesday morning to wait for the signal confirming that New Horizons had survived its encounter with Ultima Thule.

The call came at 10:31 a.m. eastern: The spacecraft’s systems were working. Its cameras and recorder were pointed in the right direction.

“We have a healthy spacecraft,” mission operations manager Alice Bowman announced. “We are ready for Ultima Thule science transmission — science to help us understand the origins of our solar system."

At mission control, and in an APL auditorium where the rest of the science team was watching, people jumped from their seats and broke into cheers.

It had been 30 years since the mission to the outer reaches of the solar system was first conceived. Thirteen years since New Horizons launched from Kennedy Space Center, speeding away from Earth faster than any probe had traveled before. Three years since the spacecraft’s famous and fateful encounter with Pluto, when it revealed the distant dwarf planet to be a complex and colorful world. And it had been ten hours since 12:33 a.m., when the spacecraft was supposed to make the closest approach to its target.

“At this moment, while we’re speaking, New Horizons is taking its riskiest observation,” project scientist Alan Stern said in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Most other Earthlings had already counted down til midnight and popped their champagne, but at APL, the assembled scientists, their family and friends were still waiting. Way out in the Kuiper belt, they knew, Ultima Thule was growing larger in New Horizon’s field of view, glowing like a full moon.

“Thirty seconds to flyby,” Stern said. “Are you ready? Are you psyched? Are you jazzed?”

Twenty seconds. Ten. And then Stern raised his hand in the air while confetti fell from the ceiling. The crowd cheered.

“New Horizons is at Ultima Thule,” Stern proclaimed.

Or so he hoped. The spacecraft was still too busy conducting observations to send any information home. When it did beam out a status update, the immense distance from Ultima Thule meant it took more than six hours for the light to reach Earth.

The scientists did not know until Tuesday morning whether New Horizons had succeeded. It will take days to resolve the first sharp images, and months for all the data collected during the encounter to finally stream down.

But somewhere out in the dusky, dusty expanse of the Kuiper belt, New Horizons is already speeding further into the distance, Ultima Thule shrinking in the rear view.

This is the biggest and busiest moment for the New Horizons team since its spacecraft soared past Pluto three years ago, capturing detailed close-up photos of the distant dwarf planet.

Helene Winters, the mission’s project manager, said spacecraft operators have been subsisting on chocolate and sleeping on air mattresses at the APL so they could make the most of every minute until New Horizons reached its target. Navigators kept a watchful eye out for potential hazards, which can be hard to spot in this faraway corner of the solar system.

Asked whether she thought she would be able to sleep Monday night, Winters laughed. “Ask me again tomorrow.”

The following morning, New Horizons’s operators sat in mission control, anxious. Data from the Deep Space Network, a chain of radio antennas NASA uses to communicate with distant spacecraft, was displayed on their screens.

Mission operations manager Alice Bowman sat with her hands folded, leaning toward her computer.

“In lock with telemetry,” Bowman said.

In the APL auditorium, where the rest of the team and their families were watching, the crowd erupted in cheers.

Next came the status check: Radio frequency - green. Thermal - green. Planning - nominal. Power - green. The spacecraft was healthy. New Horizons had done it.

Bowman grinned.

As midnight approached, the gathering at the APL took on a festival atmosphere. Scientists and their guests munched on crudités in a room lit with sparkling blue lights. Small children up long past their bedtimes scurried between chairs and sneaked cookies from the buffet.

“This is like a dream come true,” said Chuck Fields, a podcast producer from Indianapolis who drove nine hours to attend Monday’s event. He was dressed in a blindingly bright blazer and tie bearing images of planets, galaxies and the sun. His wife, Dawn, wore matching pants.

“You can find anything on Amazon,” Dawn said with a laugh.

“Alan [Stern] said this was going to be a celebration,” Chuck added. “So it was like, okay, let’s celebrate!”

Benjamin Holder, 5, pored over an image of New Horizons and the distant rock it was due to encounter.

“I used to have a cat named Toolie,” Benjamin said. “But the Thule rock that you’re looking for is not named after my cat.”

His uncle, Erik Lessac-Chenen, stifled a laugh. As a member of the spacecraft’s optical-navigation team, he had devoted the better part of the past year and a half to tracking down that “Thule rock.”

NASA nodded to the (entirely coincidental) timing of the encounter by counting down to 12 a.m. and distributing plastic cups of champagne. Then astrophysicist Brian May, better known as lead guitarist for the rock band Queen, debuted a song he wrote for the occasion.

“I’m not nervous,” Stern said, with minutes to go until the encounter. “No, no, no. We’ll find out how it all went in the morning."

New Horizons, which launched in 2006, is the first NASA mission designed specifically to explore the outer solar system — a region that Stern calls “a scientific wonderland.” Out in the Kuiper belt, where sunlight is 0.05 percent as strong as it is on Earth and temperatures hover close to absolute zero, the primitive building blocks of planets have persisted unchanged for 4.6 billion years.

“This is history-making, what we’re doing, in more ways than one,” Stern said. Every image sent back from New Horizons is the most distant photograph ever taken. Each maneuver is further than anything NASA has done before.

Ultima Thule is also among the most primitive objects ever explored. Unlike planets, which are transformed by geologic forces in their interiors, and asteroids, which are heated by the sun, Ultima Thule is thought to have existed in a “deep freeze" since it first formed.

“It is probably the best time capsule we’ve ever had for understanding the birth of our solar system and the planets in it,” Stern said.

The encounter with Ultima Thule is among the more difficult feats NASA has attempted. The great distances from Earth and the sun mean that scientists must put up with a long communications lag, and instruments must operate with very little light. Ultima Thule was discovered four years ago, and its orbit and surroundings still aren’t well known. And New Horizons is a 13-year-old vehicle; its power generator produces just a quarter as much wattage as a lightbulb, which means operators must carefully prioritize their use of remaining fuel.

The sheer speeds and distances involved boggle the mind. Ultima Thule is 1 percent the size of Pluto, and New Horizons must get four times closer to image it. At the moment of closest approach, the spacecraft was moving at a breathtaking 32,000 miles per hour. Its cameras had to swivel to track Ultima Thule as it passed by; otherwise, all it would see is a blur amid the black.

The New Horizons team had several experiments planned for the brief encounter. Particle and dust detectors were programmed to probe the environment around Ultima Thule. The spacecraft’s three cameras took images in color and black and white in an effort to map the tiny world and determine its composition.

Deputy project scientist John Spencer said Monday that he is especially interested in those detailed color photos, which could illuminate a “particular mystery” about “cold classical” Kuiper belt objects such as Ultima Thule, which never underwent dramatic geologic change. Although these rocks should be primarily made of ice, they appear reddish when viewed through the Hubble Space Telescope. It may be that the ices contain impurities that change color when struck by cosmic rays, Spencer said — a possibility he hopes to pin down by looking into craters of more recently exposed material.

“Who knows?” he said. “Anything is possible when you’re exploring a new class of world you’ve never seen before.”

The moment also involved an unprecedented radio science experiment. Six hours before the moment of closest approach, the dishes of the Deep Space Network — which NASA uses to communicate with far-flung spacecraft — blasted a powerful radio signal in Ultima Thule’s direction. The signal was timed to arrive at the rock at the same time New Horizons does on Jan. 1, allowing the spacecraft to study how those radio waves get reflected off its surface.

As APL staff began to set out plastic cups for champagne Monday night, those signals were racing toward their rendezvous with New Horizons and Ultima Thule — a message from an old year on this world, to the next year on a new one.
Never doubt a small group of concerned citizens can change the world; it's the only thing ever has
January 1st, 2019 at 10:09:02 AM permalink
Evenbob
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 128
Posts: 17433
My attention span blew up in the 2nd
paragraph. Was the object they found
a 53 Buick? That IS amazing..
If you take a risk, you may lose. If you never take a risk, you will always lose.
January 1st, 2019 at 10:27:02 AM permalink
odiousgambit
Member since: Oct 28, 2012
Threads: 100
Posts: 2519
this will get Bob even more excited

from CNN, first image

https://www-m.cnn.com/2019/01/01/world/new-horizons-ultima-thule-flyby-success/index.html?r=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F

Mustard:You like Kipling, Miss Scarlet? Sure, I'll eat anything [from movie]
January 1st, 2019 at 11:56:58 AM permalink
rxwine
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 135
Posts: 7190
All that's left from the galactic bowling alley.
Nobody learned anything from the global financial crisis.
January 2nd, 2019 at 12:09:54 PM permalink
odiousgambit
Member since: Oct 28, 2012
Threads: 100
Posts: 2519
Bob always wanted to know what God really looked like. Like Frosty, Bob.

Looks like Frosty has his head cocked to view something to his left.

image from new york times

Mustard:You like Kipling, Miss Scarlet? Sure, I'll eat anything [from movie]
January 3rd, 2019 at 3:09:19 AM permalink
odiousgambit
Member since: Oct 28, 2012
Threads: 100
Posts: 2519
In other news, China landed on the far side of the moon

It's thought now that the crust of the moon is thicker on that side due to the way it was formed by collision, and that we see those "seas" on the near side because bombardment caused lava to pool. We don't see the "seas" on the far side. [crust & lava may not be the right terminology btw]

Quote: link, also where image is from
With no direct communication link possible, all pictures and data have to be bounced off a separate satellite before being relayed to Earth




https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46724727
Mustard:You like Kipling, Miss Scarlet? Sure, I'll eat anything [from movie]
January 3rd, 2019 at 10:48:07 AM permalink
Ayecarumba
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 89
Posts: 1736
Have you ever thrown a smooth stone so that it skipped across the surface of a lake or the ocean? Did it cross your mind that it may have taken hundreds of thousands or millions of years for that stone to reach the shore, and you just put it right in the water. It will probably not be seen by human eyes, nor touched by human hands again.

This is what we see with New Horizons. The object is so distant, that we will probably not observe it again in our lifetime, and probably not our children's either. Truly historic... and there may be at least one more to come.

Trivia: The United States has been the first nation to send a space probe to every planet except...
... None. The US has been first to every planet from Mercury to Neptune. Eat our space dust China!
January 3rd, 2019 at 11:06:42 AM permalink
AZDuffman
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 118
Posts: 9691
Quote: Ayecarumba
Have you ever thrown a smooth stone so that it skipped across the surface of a lake or the ocean? Did it cross your mind that it may have taken hundreds of thousands or millions of years for that stone to reach the shore, and you just put it right in the water. It will probably not be seen by human eyes, nor touched by human hands again.





Quote:
Trivia: The United States has been the first nation to send a space probe to every planet except...
... None. The US has been first to every planet from Mercury to Neptune. Eat our space dust China!


You forgot Pluto. Was a planet when we left for it.
The man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it
January 3rd, 2019 at 11:14:47 AM permalink
petroglyph
Member since: Aug 3, 2014
Threads: 21
Posts: 3826
Quote: Ayecarumba
Trivia: The United States has been the first nation to send a space probe to every planet except...
Earth, haven't sent a space probe to planet earth.
Everyone gets thrown from the plane to maintain altitude
January 3rd, 2019 at 11:16:14 AM permalink
Wizard
Administrator
Member since: Oct 23, 2012
Threads: 210
Posts: 5292
Quote: Ayecarumba
Have you ever thrown a smooth stone so that it skipped across the surface of a lake or the ocean? Did it cross your mind that it may have taken hundreds of thousands or millions of years for that stone to reach the shore, and you just put it right in the water. It will probably not be seen by human eyes, nor touched by human hands again.


There is a Peanuts cartoon where Linus says this to Charlie Brown. He then replied something like, "Everything I do makes me feel guilty."

Edit: I see AZD remembers it too.
Knowledge is Good -- Emil Faber
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