NASA’s New Horizons rocket has influenced the first detection of its next flyby target, the Kuiper Belt object dubbed Ultima Thule, over four months in front of its New Year’s 2019 close encounter.
New Horizons’ telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) detected small, dim object more than 100 million miles away, and against a dense background of stars. Taken Aug. 16 and transmitted home through NASA‘s Deep Space Network over the next days, the set of 48 pictures denoted the group’s first attempt to discover Ultima with the shuttle’s own cameras.
Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist and LORRI principal investigator from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland said, “The image field is extremely rich with background stars, which makes it difficult to detect faint objects. It really is like finding a needle in a haystack. In these first images, Ultima appears only as a bump on the side of a background star that’s roughly 17 times brighter, but Ultima will be getting brighter – and easier to see – as the spacecraft gets closer.”
This observation was important because perceptions New Horizons makes of Ultima throughout the following four months will enable the mission to group refine the shuttle’s course toward a nearest way to deal with Ultima, at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1, 2019. That Ultima was where mission scientists anticipated that it would be – in precisely the spot they anticipated, utilizing information assembled by the Hubble Space Telescope – shows the group as of now has a smart thought of Ultima’s orbit.
The Ultima flyby will be the first-ever close-up investigation of a small Kuiper Belt protest and the most remote investigation of any planetary body ever, shattering the record New Horizons itself set at Pluto in July 2015 by around 1 billion miles. These pictures are likewise the most far off from the Sun at any point taken, breaking the record set by Voyager 1’s “Pale Blue Dot” image of Earth taken in 1990.
New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern said, “Our team worked hard to determine if Ultima was detected by LORRI at such a great distance, and the result is a clear yes. We now have Ultima in our sights from much farther out than once thought possible. We are on Ultima’s doorstep, and an amazing exploration awaits!”