NASA’s New horizons makes first detection of Kuiper belt flyby target

Ultima in view.

NASA’s new horizons makes first detection of Kuiper belt flyby target
The figure on the left is a composite image produced by adding 48 different exposures from the News Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), each with an exposure time of 29.967 seconds, taken on Aug. 16, 2018. The predicted position of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule is at the center of the yellow box, and is indicated by the red crosshairs, just above and left of a nearby star that is approximately 17 times brighter than Ultima. At right is a magnified view of the region in the yellow box, after subtraction of a background star field "template" taken by LORRI in September 2017 before it could detect the object itself. Ultima is clearly detected in this star-subtracted image and is very close to where scientists predicted, indicating to the team that New Horizons is being targeted in the right direction. The many artifacts in the star-subtracted image are caused either by small mis-registrations between the new LORRI images and the template, or by intrinsic brightness variations of the stars. At the time of these observations, Ultima Thule was 107 million miles (172 million kilometers) from the New Horizons spacecraft and 4 billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) from the Sun. (Image credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI) Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

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.

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!”