Space Out stuff

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NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is bearing down on Ultima Thule, its New Year's flyby target in the far away Kuiper Belt. Among its approach observations over the past three months, the spacecraft has been taking hundreds of images to measure Ultima's brightness and how it varies as the object rotates.
Those measurements have produced the mission's first mystery about Ultima. Even though scientists determined in 2017 that the Kuiper Belt object isn't shaped like a sphere – that it is probably elongated or maybe even two objects – they haven't seen the repeated pulsations in brightness that they'd expect from a rotating object of that shape. The periodic variation in brightness during every rotation produces what scientists refer to as a light curve.
"It's really a puzzle," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute. "I call this Ultima's first puzzle – why does it have such a tiny light curve that we can't even detect it? I expect the detailed flyby images coming soon to give us many more mysteries, but I did not expect this, and so soon."
What could explain the tiny, still undetected light curve? New Horizons science team members have different ideas.
"It's possible that Ultima's rotation pole is aimed right at or close to the spacecraft," said Marc Buie, also of the Southwest Research Institute. That explanation is a natural, he said, but it requires the special circumstance of a particular orientation of Ultima.

"Another explanation," said the SETI Institute's Mark Showalter, "is that Ultima may be surrounded by a cloud of dust that obscures its light curve, much the way a comet's coma often overwhelms the light reflected by its central nucleus." That explanation is plausible, Showalter added, but such a coma would require some source of heat to generate, and Ultima is too far away for the Sun's feeble light to do the trick.

"An even more bizarre scenario is one in which Ultima is surrounded by many tiny tumbling moons," said University of Virginia's Anne Verbiscer, a New Horizons assistant project scientist. "If each moon has its own light curve, then together they could create a jumbled superposition of light curves that make it look to New Horizons like Ultima has a small light curve." While that explanation is also plausible, she adds, it has no parallel in all the other bodies of our solar system.
So, what's the answer?
"It's hard to say which of these ideas is right," Stern said. "Perhaps its even something we haven't even thought of. In any case, we'll get to the bottom of this puzzle soon – New Horizons will swoop over Ultima and take high-resolution images on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, and the first of those images will be available on Earth just a day later. When we see those high—resolution images, we'll know the answer to Ultima's vexing, first puzzle. Stay tuned!"


Also:

With no apparent hazards in its way, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has been given a "go" to stay on its optimal path to Ultima Thule as it speeds closer to a Jan. 1 flyby of the Kuiper Belt object a billion miles beyond Pluto – the farthest planetary flyby in history.
After almost three weeks of sensitive searches for rings, small moons and other potential hazards around the object, New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern gave the "all clear" for the spacecraft to remain on a path that takes it about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) from Ultima, instead of a hazard-avoiding detour that would have pushed it three times farther out. With New Horizons blazing though space at some 31,500 miles (50,700 kilometers) per hour, a particle as small as a grain of rice could be lethal to the piano-sized probe.
The dozen-member New Horizons hazard watch team had been using the spacecraft's most powerful telescopic camera, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), to look for potential hazards. The decision on whether to keep New Horizons on its original course or divert to a more distant flyby, which would have produced less-detailed data, had to be made this week since the last opportunity to maneuver the spacecraft onto another trajectory was today (Dec. 18).
New Horizons formed its hazard watch team in 2011 to prepare for its Pluto flyby, addressing concerns that Pluto's newly discovered small moons could spread dangerous debris across New Horizons' path. An intense search turned up no potential mission-ending risks; the team opted for the original flight plan and New Horizons safely carried out its historic exploration of the Pluto system in July 2015.
This year, the hazard watch team has been conducting similar analyses on the approach to Ultima Thule, which is officially designated 2014 MU69. Any ring structure reflecting even just five 10-millionths of the sunlight falling on it would have been visible in the images, as would any moons more than about two miles (three kilometers) across, but the team saw none. Scientists will continue to look for rings or moons that are very close to Ultima, but those would not pose a risk.
"Our team feels like we have been riding along with the spacecraft, as if we were mariners perched on the crow's nest of a ship, looking out for dangers ahead," said hazards team lead Mark Showalter, of the SETI Institute. "The team was in complete consensus that the spacecraft should remain on the closer trajectory, and mission leadership adopted our recommendation."
"The spacecraft is now targeted for the optimal flyby, over three times closer than we flew to Pluto," added Stern. "Ultima, here we come!"
New Horizons will make its historic close approach to Ultima Thule at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1—the first ever flyby of a Kuiper Belt object.
 

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Well the USA Congress isn't doing their job very good..They had let to pass a budget-By Law they are to pass a law tell how much cash they can spend through out the year...But they are only to pass certain department budget.Its the same old stuff.Fighting each part of the government the house and senate(one control by Rep and demo).Plus they are going on xmas break-If they work for a company they would had been keep off the job and someone else took their place.Plus th Republicans pass a law spend 6 billion on Donald Trump WALL.The Democratic said they wouldn't fund his wall.Its funny every fighting over this let both side had done nothing about this immigration.
I'm for people coming into the USA only if they go by the law.If we try this shit in Mexico they would shoot us....
A partial government shutdown that started Dec. 22 will once again force NASA to halt most of its non-essential activities and could hinder coverage of spaceflight events planned for the end of the year.
NASA is among the agencies whose funding lapsed at midnight Eastern time Dec. 22 when a continuing resolution (CR) that had been funding them expired. NASA is funded by the commerce, justice and science appropriations bill, one of seven yet to be passed by Congress. Five other bills, including for the Defense Department, have been passed, and those agencies are not affected by the shutdown.
Congress appeared to be on track to avoid a shutdown when the Senate approved on a voice vote Dec. 19 another CR that would run through Feb. 8. However, House leaders, after consulting with President Trump, amended that CR by adding $5 billion in border security funding. That CR, approved by the House on a party-line vote Dec. 20, is considered dead in the Senate because of opposition to that additional funding.
With Congress and the White House at an impasse, funding for at least part of the government lapsed for the third time in 2018. A brief lapse in February, lasting only about eight hours, had no effect on government operations. A shutdown in January lasted three days, temporarily interrupting activities.
NASA updated its shutdown plan Dec. 18. That plan is similar to the one it followed in its January shutdown, where the agency continues critical activities related to International Space Station and other spacecraft operations, any critical spaceflight hardware processing and general protection of life and property. All other activities will be suspended for the duration of the shutdown.
According to the updated shutdown plan, NASA has identified 437 full-time staff who will be excepted from the shutdown as well as 664 employees excepted on a part-time basis, out of a total workforce of 17,586. An additional 2,189 employees will be “on call” for any emergency needs. The rest of the agency’s civil servant workforce will be furloughed for the duration of the shutdown.
The duration of the shutdown remains uncertain. While discussions between Congress and the White House continue to seek a compromise version of a new CR, some fear the shutdown could continue through at least Jan. 3, when the new Congress convenes and the House, now with a Democratic majority, could pass a CR similar to the earlier Senate version.
An extended shutdown could jeopardize the agency’s ability to publicize some upcoming events, including the flyby of the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, also known as Ultima Thule, by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. The spacecraft will make its closest approach to the distant body just after midnight Eastern Jan. 1, and NASA had planned to provide extensive coverage of the event on NASA TV and on the web.
However, NASA’s current shutdown plan, like previous ones, notes that, in the event of a shutdown, “Citizens will not have televised access to NASA operations and programming or access to the NASA Web site.” During the January shutdown, NASA interrupted NASA TV programming and stopped updating its website and social media.
The flyby itself, though, will not be affected by the shutdown should it continue through the rest of the year. The spacecraft is operated from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Maryland, which will also host events for the flyby. Michael Buckley, an APL spokesman, said Dec. 20 that those events will proceed even if the government shutdown continues. Without NASA TV or its website, he said, “we’d likely use APL’s web and social media resources” to cover the flyby.
Besides NASA, the shutdown affects a number of other agencies involved in research activities that will be halted for the duration of the shutdown. “Those agencies are basically closed for business today,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), top Democrat on the House Science Committee and set to chair the committee in the next Congress, in a Dec. 22 statement. “As I’ve noted in previous shutdowns, as our competitors in other countries surge ahead in their R&D investments, we have basically shut down a large chunk of our federal science and technology enterprise.”
 

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A NASA spacecraft is hurtling toward a historic New Year's Day flyby of the most distant planetary object ever studied, a frozen relic of the early solar system called Ultima Thule.
Four billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away, the unmanned spaceship, New Horizons, is poised to zoom by at 12:33 am (0533 GMT) on January 1, at a distance of just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) from Ultima Thule.
That's more than three times closer than New Horizons came to Pluto when it zipped by the dwarf planet in 2015.
So what is this strange object, which is named after a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and has its own rock anthem performed by Queen guitarist Brian May?
"This is truly the most primitive object ever encountered by a spacecraft," said Hal Weaver, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
Relatively small, scientists aren't sure about its exact size.
But they believe it is about 100 times tinier than Pluto which measures almost 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) in diameter.
Ultima Thule is also in a freezing area of space, suggesting it may remain well preserved.
"Really, it is a relic from the formation of the solar system," said Weaver.
'Attic' of the solar system
Ultima Thule (pronounced TOO-lee) lies in the Kuiper Belt, a vast cosmic disc left over from the days when planets first formed.
Astronomers sometimes call it the "attic" of the solar system.
Scientists didn't even know the Kuiper Belt existed until the 1990s.
The Kuiper Belt begins some three billion miles (4.8 billion kilometers) beyond the Sun, past the orbit of Neptune which is the furthest planet from the Sun.
"It is teeming with literally billions of comets, millions of objects like Ultima which are called planetesimals, the building blocks out of which planets were formed, and a smattering—a handful of dwarf planets the size of continents, like Pluto," said Alan Stern, principal investigator on New Horizons.
"It is important to us in planetary science because this region of the solar system, being so far from the Sun, preserves the original conditions from four and a half billion years ago," Stern added.
"So when we fly by Ultima, we are going to be able to see the way things were back at the beginning."

High-speed, close encounter
The New Horizons spacecraft is speeding through space at 32,000 miles (51,500 kilometers) per hour, traveling almost a million miles per day.
At that pace, if it strikes a piece of debris as small as a rice pellet, the spacecraft could be destroyed instantly.
"We don't want that to happen," said Stern.
If New Horizon survives this flyby, it will do so while furiously snapping hundreds of pictures of Ultima Thule, in the hopes of revealing its shape and geology for the first time.
New Horizons sent back stunning images of Pluto—including a never before seen heart shape on its surface—in 2015.
This time, "at closest approach we are going to try to image Ultima at three times the resolution we had for Pluto," Stern said.
But the flyby "requires extremely precise navigation. Much more precise than we have ever tried before. We might get it, and we might not," Stern added.
Answers to come?
Ultima Thule was first discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014.
Scientists figured out in 2017 that Ultima Thule is not spherical but possibly elongated in shape. It may even be two objects.
It does not project the repeated, pulsing light scientists expect to see from a rotating cosmic object, raising puzzling questions.
Could it be surrounded by cosmic dust? Enveloped by many tiny moons? Oriented in such a way that its pole is facing the approaching spacecraft?
NASA hopes the flyby will reveal the answers.
The first images are expected by the evening of January 1, with release planned for January 2.
More, higher resolution shots should follow.
Though no live images are possible at this distance, NASA plans to broadcast online during the flyby, featuring an animated video and music by Queen guitarist Brian May, who holds a degree in astrophysics and is releasing a musical tribute to accompany the event.
"I was inspired by the idea that this is the furthest that the Hand of Man has ever reached," May said.
And Stern hopes this won't be the end for New Horizons, which launched in 2006 and is powered by plutonium.
"We hope to hunt down one more KPO (Kuiper Belt Object), making an even more distant flyby in the 2020s," Stern said.
All of NASAs public event about the flyby are can due to the government shut down.NASA will release info through normal news services,,
 

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Xmas Tree Nebula -
NGC 2264 is the designation number of the New General Catalogue that identifies two astronomical objects as a single object: the Cone Nebula, and the Christmas Tree Cluster. Two other objects are within this designation but not officially included, the Snowflake Cluster, and the Fox Fur Nebula.
All of the objects are located in the Monoceros constellation and are located about 800 parsecs or 2600 light-years from Earth.
NGC 2264 is sometimes referred to as the Christmas Tree Cluster and the Cone Nebula. However, the designation of NGC 2264 in the New General Catalogue refers to both objects and not the cluster alone.
NGC2264 is the location where the Cone Nebula, The Stellar Snowflake Cluster and the Christmas Tree Cluster have formed in this emission nebula. For reference, the Stellar Snowflake Cluster is located 2,700 light years away in the constellation Monoceros. The Monoceros constellation is not typically visible by the naked eye due to its lack of colossal stars.
The Snowflake Cluster was granted its name due to its unmistakable pinwheel-like shape and its assortment of bright colors. The Christmas Tree star formation consists of young stars obscured by heavy layers of dust clouds. These dust clouds, along with hydrogen and helium are producing luminous new stars. The combination of dense clouds and an array of colors creates a color map filled with varying wavelengths. As seen in the photographs taken by the Spitzer Space telescope, we are able to differentiate between young, red stars and older blue stars.
With varying youthful stars, comes vast changes to the overall structure of the clusters and nebula. For a cluster to be considered a Snowflake, it must remain in the original location the star was formed.
 

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One day we will go to another planet outside of our solar system Many wonders to be find some are beautiful ,while other are dangerous .We must learn not to trust how thing look...
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Mars billion years ago had water ,a sea that might had life on it..
1546020146173.png
Venus also had water on it too.But both planet lost its magnetic field and through the ages the solar wing hit the "Air" and strip them of the water leaving only CO2.Mars still have water on it below the surface,while Venus get hotter and all the water has when into the air, and become sulfuric acid. Venus also reflect most of the sun light back into space.
 
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I wonder why both Venus and Mars had such bad luck. It's true that shit happens, but if not, maybe those two planets would still look like from million years ago.
If Mars and Venus still would have water and if Venus wouldn't be extremely hot, who knows what kind of life there would be? It's a shame it turned out like this...
 

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The processes that led to glaciation at the cratered poles of Mercury, the planet closest to the sun, have been modeled by a University of Maine-led research team.
James Fastook, a UMaine professor of computer science and Climate Change Institute researcher, and James Head and Ariel Deutsch of Brown University, studied the accumulation and flow of ice on Mercury, and how the glacial deposits on the smallest planet in our solar system compare to those on Earth and Mars.
Their findings, published in the journal Icarus, add to our understanding of how Mercury's ice accumulations—estimated to be less than 50 million years old and up to 50 meters thick in places—may have changed over time. Changes in ice sheets serve as climatic indicators.
Analysis of Mercury's cold-based glaciers, located in the permanently shadowed craters near the poles and visible by Earth-based radar, was funded by a NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute grant for Evolution and Environment of Exploration Destinations, and is part of a study of volatile deposits on the moon.
Like the moon, Mercury does not have an atmosphere that produces snow or ice that could account for glaciers at the poles. Simulations by Fastook's team suggest that the planet's ice was deposited—likely the result of a water-rich comet or other impact event—and has remained stable, with little or no flow velocity. That's despite the extreme temperature difference between the permanently shadowed locations of the glaciers on Mercury and the adjacent regions illuminated by the sun.
One of the team's primary scientific tools was the University of Maine Ice Sheet Model (UMISM), developed by Fastook with National Science Foundation funding. Fastook has used UMISM to reconstruct the shape and outline of past and present ice sheets on Earth and Mars, with findings published in 2002 and 2008, respectively.
"We expect the deposits (on Mercury) are supply limited, and that they are basically stagnant unmoving deposits, reflecting the extreme efficiency of the cold-trapping mechanism" of the polar terrain, according to the researchers.
(end)
Also-

A NASA spacecraft is hurtling toward a historic New Year's Day flyby of the most distant planetary object ever studied, a frozen relic of the early solar system called Ultima Thule.
Four billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away, the unmanned spaceship, New Horizons, is poised to zoom by at 12:33 am (0533 GMT) on January 1, at a distance of just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) from Ultima Thule.

That's more than three times closer than New Horizons came to Pluto when it zipped by the dwarf planet in 2015.

So what is this strange object, which is named after a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and has its own rock anthem performed by Queen guitarist Brian May?

"This is truly the most primitive object ever encountered by a spacecraft," said Hal Weaver, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Relatively small, scientists aren't sure about its exact size.

But they believe it is about 100 times tinier than Pluto which measures almost 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) in diameter.

Ultima Thule is also in a freezing area of space, suggesting it may remain well preserved.

"Really, it is a relic from the formation of the solar system," said Weaver.

'Attic' of the solar system

Ultima Thule (pronounced TOO-lee) lies in the Kuiper Belt, a vast cosmic disc left over from the days when planets first formed.

Astronomers sometimes call it the "attic" of the solar system.

Scientists didn't even know the Kuiper Belt existed until the 1990s.

The Kuiper Belt begins some three billion miles (4.8 billion kilometers) beyond the Sun, past the orbit of Neptune which is the furthest planet from the Sun.

"It is teeming with literally billions of comets, millions of objects like Ultima which are called planetesimals, the building blocks out of which planets were formed, and a smattering—a handful of dwarf planets the size of continents, like Pluto," said Alan Stern, principal investigator on New Horizons.

"It is important to us in planetary science because this region of the solar system, being so far from the Sun, preserves the original conditions from four and a half billion years ago," Stern added.

"So when we fly by Ultima, we are going to be able to see the way things were back at the beginning."


High-speed, close encounter

The New Horizons spacecraft is speeding through space at 32,000 miles (51,500 kilometers) per hour, traveling almost a million miles per day.

At that pace, if it strikes a piece of debris as small as a rice pellet, the spacecraft could be destroyed instantly.

"We don't want that to happen," said Stern.

If New Horizon survives this flyby, it will do so while furiously snapping hundreds of pictures of Ultima Thule, in the hopes of revealing its shape and geology for the first time.

New Horizons sent back stunning images of Pluto—including a never before seen heart shape on its surface—in 2015.

This time, "at closest approach we are going to try to image Ultima at three times the resolution we had for Pluto," Stern said.

But the flyby "requires extremely precise navigation. Much more precise than we have ever tried before. We might get it, and we might not," Stern added.

Answers to come?

Ultima Thule was first discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014.

Scientists figured out in 2017 that Ultima Thule is not spherical but possibly elongated in shape. It may even be two objects.

It does not project the repeated, pulsing light scientists expect to see from a rotating cosmic object, raising puzzling questions.

Could it be surrounded by cosmic dust? Enveloped by many tiny moons? Oriented in such a way that its pole is facing the approaching spacecraft?

NASA hopes the flyby will reveal the answers.

The first images are expected by the evening of January 1, with release planned for January 2.

More, higher resolution shots should follow.

Though no live images are possible at this distance, NASA plans to broadcast online during the flyby, featuring an animated video and music by Queen guitarist Brian May, who holds a degree in astrophysics and is releasing a musical tribute to accompany the event.

"I was inspired by the idea that this is the furthest that the Hand of Man has ever reached," May said.

And Stern hopes this won't be the end for New Horizons, which launched in 2006 and is powered by plutonium.

"We hope to hunt down one more KPO (Kuiper Belt Object), making an even more distant flyby in the 2020s," Stern said.
 

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I wonder why both Venus and Mars had such bad luck. It's true that shit happens, but if not, maybe those two planets would still look like from million years ago.
If Mars and Venus still would have water and if Venus wouldn't be extremely hot, who knows what kind of life there would be? It's a shame it turned out like this...
There are solar system out there that might have 2 or more planet with human like life on it.
A lot of old movie and books had life on Mars and Venus and even under the surface of the Moon..
In fact I just watch on where this English guy in the 1910 or so build a thing that when to the moon and he meet some bug like creature by time the USA made their land they had left the moon because they fear human because of all the wars...3 people was on it a woman and the old guy and young guy-The young guy and woman made it back and the USA astronaut find the UK flag there with a note.
 

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Nancy Grace Roman, the first woman to hold an executive position at NASA and who helped with development of the Hubble Space Telescope, has died.

Laura Verreau, a cousin, confirmed Thursday that Roman died on Christmas Day after a prolonged illness. She was 93.
The NASA webpage said Roman was the first chief of astronomy in the office of space science at NASA headquarters and was the first woman to hold an executive position at the agency. She had direct oversight for the planning and development of astronomy-based programs including the Cosmic Background Explorer and the Hubble Space Telescope.
Roman retired from NASA in 1979. Throughout her career, she advocated for women and young people to become involved in science.
A memorial service is being planned.
 

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As the brilliant comet 46P/Wirtanen streaked across the sky, NASA telescopes caught it on camera from multiple angles.
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope photographed comet 46P/Wirtanen on Dec. 13, when the comet was 7.4 million miles (12 million kilometers) from Earth. In this visible light image, the comet's nucleus is hidden in the center of a fuzzy glow from the comet's coma. The coma is a cloud of gas and dust that the comet has ejected during its pass through the inner solar system due to heating from the Sun. To make this composite image, the color blue was applied to high-resolution grayscale exposures acquired from the spacecraft's WFC3 instrument.
The inner part of a comet's coma is normally not accessible from Earth. The close fly-by of comet 46P/Wirtanen allowed astronomers to study it in detail. They combined the unique capabilities of Hubble, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory to study how gases are released from the nucleus, what the comet's ices are composed of, and how gas in the coma is chemically altered by sunlight and solar radiation.
NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, took this image of the comet on Dec. 16 and 17 when the aircraft was flying at 40,000 feet.
Comets and asteroids may be the source of Earth's water. SOFIA is studying the chemical fingerprints of different types of hydrogen in the comet's water, which will help us learn about the origins and history of water in the solar system—including Earth's oceans.(LA0 thinks the Earth had a lot of water just like Venus and Mars when they was formation ,now comet and etc just add to that total)
The SOFIA image was taken with the telescope's visible light guide camera, using an orange filter to indicate the intensity of light relative to other objects. SOFIA's observations using infrared light to study the comet's water are now under analysis.
Comet 46P/Wirtanen made its closest approach to Earth on Dec. 16, when it passed just over 7 million miles (11 million kilometers) from our planet, about 30 times farther away than the Moon. Although its close approach is valuable for making science observations from Earth, and it is the brightest comet of 2018, 46P/Wirtanen is only barely visible to the unaided eye even where the sky is very dark. It is best viewed through binoculars or a telescope.
Backyard observers can currently find the comet near the constellation Taurus though with the challenge of added light from the Moon, but it will continue to be viewable in the weeks to come. Finder charts and other information are available at the Comet Wirtanen Observing Campaign website.
Comet 46P/Wirtanen orbits the Sun once every 5.4 years, much quicker than the 75-year orbit of the more famous Comet Halley. Most of its passes through the inner solar system are much farther from Earth, making this year's display particularly notable.
 

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(Side-by-side comparison shows an ALMA image of comet 46P/Wirtanen (left) and an optical image (right). The ALMA image has approximately 1000 times the resolution of the optical image and zooms in on the inner portion of the comet's diffuse coma)


As comet 46P/Wirtanen neared Earth on December 2, astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) took a remarkably close look the innermost regions of the comet's coma, the gaseous envelope around its nucleus.
ALMA imaged the comet when it was approximately 16.5 million kilometers from Earth. At its closet on December 16, the comet – one of the brightest in years—was approximately 11.6 million kilometers from Earth, or about 30 times the distance from the Earth to the moon.
"This comet is causing a stir in the professional and amateur astronomy communities due to its combined brightness and proximity, which allows us to study it in unprecedented detail" said NASA's Martin Cordiner, who led the team that made the ALMA observations. "As the comet drew nearer to the Sun, its icy body heated up, releasing water vapor and various other particles stored inside, forming the characteristic puffed-up coma and elongated tail."
The ALMA image of comet 46P/Wirtanen zooms-in to very near its nucleus – the solid "dirty snowball" of the comet itself—to image the natural millimeter-wavelength "glow" emitted by molecules of hydrogen cyanide (HCN), a simple organic molecule that forms an ethereal atmosphere around the comet. ALMA, using its remarkable ability to see fine details, was able to detect and image the fine-scale distribution of this particular molecule.

The HCN image shows a compact region of gas and an extended, diffuse, and somewhat asymmetrical, pattern in the inner portion of the coma. Due to the extreme proximity of this comet, most of the extended coma is resolved out, so these observations are only sensitive to the innermost regions, in the immediate vicinity of the nucleus.
The astronomers also performed observations of more complex molecules on Dec 9, when the comet was 13.6 million kilometers from Earth.
Comet 46P/Wirtanen orbits the Sun once every five-and-a-half years, which is remarkably brisk compared to its more famous cousin Halley's Comet, which has an orbital period of about 75 years. Other bright comets can have periods that are on the order of hundreds and even thousands of years. The comet may yet be visible to the naked eye.
For comparison, an optical view of the comet taken by an amateur astrophotographer is shown. Though they appear to be similar, the ALMA image spans an area of the sky only about 5 arcseconds – about 1000 times smaller than the optical image – meaning ALMA is looking at the very fine-scale features in the coma.
This and previous observations of comets with ALMA confirm that they are rich in organic molecules, and may therefore have seeded the early Earth with the chemical building blocks of life.
 

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Nancy Grace Roman, the first woman to hold an executive position at NASA and who helped with development of the Hubble Space Telescope, has died.

Laura Verreau, a cousin, confirmed Thursday that Roman died on Christmas Day after a prolonged illness. She was 93.
The NASA webpage said Roman was the first chief of astronomy in the office of space science at NASA headquarters and was the first woman to hold an executive position at the agency. She had direct oversight for the planning and development of astronomy-based programs including the Cosmic Background Explorer and the Hubble Space Telescope.
Roman retired from NASA in 1979. Throughout her career, she advocated for women and young people to become involved in science.
A memorial service is being planned.
Requiescat In Pace
 

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is ready to perform a flyby of the most distant solar system object ever, an event largely unaffected by the ongoing government shutdown.
New Horizons will make its closest approach to the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule, at 12:33 a.m. Eastern Jan. 1. The spacecraft will pass 3,500 kilometers from the small body, 6.6 billion kilometers from the Earth, at a speed of 14 kilometers per second.
Controllers transmitted a “knowledge update” to New Horizons early Dec. 30, changing the timing of events during the flyby by two seconds to reflect improved knowledge of the position of Ultima Thule relative to the spacecraft. That will likely be the final update prior to the flyby, said Alice Bowman, New Horizons mission operations manager, during a briefing at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) here Dec. 30.
New Horizons itself is in good condition, with no sign of any problems that could hinder the flyby. “The spacecraft is healthy,” she said. When the spacecraft transmits a confirmation that the update was successfully applied, “we’ll probably breathe a huge sigh of relief.” Bowman tweeted late Dec. 30 that the update was indeed successfully installed on the spacecraft.
Scientists involved with the mission were excited about the science they expect New Horizons to return, but not nervous about the flyby itself. “A lot of my calmness reflects the fact that the mission is operating just as we expect it to. There’s no indication of anything anomalous,” said Jeff Moore, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center who leads the part of the New Horizons science team devoted to geology and geophysics investigations. “The most recent knowledge update puts us in a very good position to get some really beautiful pictures.”
The biggest challenge in the days leading up to the flyby have not been technical but instead bureaucratic. The partial government shutdown that started Dec. 22 when funding lapsed for some government agencies, including NASA, threw a wrench into plans developed months earlier for publicizing the event. NASA’s shutdown plan states that the agency’s website and social media will not be updated during the shutdown, and that NASA Television will also be offline.
However, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Dec. 27 that NASA TV and social media accounts would continue to operate during the flyby because the contract supporting that work was “forward funded” prior to the shutdown. APL also made plans to broadcast briefings about the flyby on its own social media accounts and website.
Alan Stern, the principal investigator for New Horizons, said Dec. 30 that because of the shutdown NASA officials who previously planned to attend the flyby can’t do so in an official capacity, including appearing at media events or making statements. “Other than that we are essentially unaffected,” he said, adding that those officials are welcome to attend the flyby events as private citizens.
A few science team members who are NASA civil servants had to get exceptions from the furlough that affects about 95 percent the agency’s workforce “because this is a critical operation,” Stern said.
Among them was Moore, who said he and another Ames scientist, Dale Cruikshank, needed to “deal with the bureaucracy” in order to get excepted from the furlough and permission to travel to APL for the flyby. “We both spent a day filling out paperwork and dealing with the system,” he said.
Moore and other scientists are looking forward to the expected seven gigabytes of data that New Horizons will collect during the flyby, including images, spectra and particle data about Ultima Thule. While a few images and other data will be returned in the days following the flyby, it will take the spacecraft about 20 months to transmit all the data it collected because of its extreme distance from the Earth.
New Horizons will be out of contact with the Earth during the flyby itself. It will transmit some data collected prior to the close approach Dec. 31. After the close approach it will transmit 15 minutes of telemetry that Bowman described as a “burst of health and safety data,” including the amount of data collected. That is expected to arrive on Earth at 10:29 a.m. Eastern Jan. 1. The spacecraft will start returning data collected during the flyby later Jan. 1.
Ultima Thule is considered part of a family of Kuiper Belt objects called “cold classicals.” The “cold” in the name refers not to their temperature but the fact that they have orbits with low inclination and eccentricity, said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist, suggesting they have not been perturbed or modified since the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.
“It’s probably the most primitive object ever encountered by a spacecraft,” he said of Ultima Thule. “It’s the best possible relic of the solar system’s formation out at those distances.”
“The Kuiper Belt is just a scientific wonderland. It is the location where we have the best-preserved samples from the formation era of our solar system,” Stern said. “From a scientific standpoint there’s nothing like this.”
Scientists are also excited about the flyby because so little is known about Ultima Thule, discovered only in 2014 as they looked for potential targets for an extended mission for New Horizons after its July 2015 flyby of Pluto. The object, no more than 30 kilometers across, has only been seen by the Hubble Space Telescope and New Horizons itself.
“We don’t know a thing about MU69,” said Stern. “We’ve never, in the history of spaceflight, gone to a target that we knew less about.”
Among those uncertainties is the rotational period of the object. Scientists had hoped to determine how fast Ultima Thule spins around its axis by looking for a pattern in brightness variations of the object over time, known as a lightcurve. However, observations of the object so far have revealed a flat lightcurve, making it difficult to discern a rotation period.
Weaver said there’s “some hint” in the lightcurve data they have that the spacecraft rotates quickly, on the order of several hours. “The little bit that we’ve been able to tease out suggests that it may be rotating pretty quickly, but we’ve been up and down on the team as to whether or not we believe that,” he said.
Weaver said the most likely explanation of the lack of a lightcurve is that New Horizons is looking directly down the rotation axis of Ultima Thule, so that it looks at the same part of the object all the time.
However, there are alternative explanations. Marc Buie, who led the team that observed stellar occultations in July 2017 and August 2018 when Ultima Thule passed in front of a star, said an unusual shape of the object could explain the flat lightcurve. While those occultations indicated that the object may have two lobes, an object with three lobes could also produce a flat lightcurve.
Given enough time to develop models, Buie said he could likely come up with a shape for Ultima Thule that explains the lightcurve. But the spacecraft will soon provide its own answers, he added. “Why not just wait until we get pictures?”
 

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NASA’s New Horizons completed a close approach to a small body in the distant Kuiper Belt early Jan. 1, collecting data that may reveal new insights about the formation of the solar system.
New Horizons made its closest approach to 2014 MU69, also known as Ultima Thule, at 12:33 a.m. Eastern, passing approximately 3,500 kilometers from the Kuiper Belt object. While the approach was celebrated at the time during an event at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) here, the spacecraft was not in communications with the Earth.
NASA’s Deep Space Network received a signal from the spacecraft at 10:30 a.m. Eastern. That initial transmission contained no science data but rather telemetry about the health of the spacecraft and its performance during the flyby, including how much data it collected. Future downlinks, including one scheduled for later Jan. 1, will start returning science data.
“We have a healthy spacecraft,” said Alice Bowman, the New Horizons mission operations manager, after reviewing that initial burst of telemetry from the spacecraft, 6.6 billion kilometers from the Earth. “We’ve just accomplished the most distant flyby. We are ready for Ultima Thule science transmission.”
Prior to closest approach, project officials were optimistic that the spacecraft would perform the flyby as planned. “We’re very confident in the spacecraft and very confident in the plan that we have for the exploration of Ultima,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons, at a Dec. 31 press conference. “But I’d be kidding you if I didn’t tell you that we’re also on pins and needles to see how this turns out.”
Stern emphasized the uncertainties associated with the flyby and the inability to deal with any problems as the spacecraft is pushed to its limits. He said the Ultima Thule flyby was “much more challenging” than the one the spacecraft performed of Pluto in July 2015.
“We only get one shot at it. Nothing like this has ever been done before,” he said. “With any enterprise like this there comes risk. Fortunately, the rewards are work the risk.”
The rewards will come over the next 20 months as New Horizons slowly transmits the estimated seven gigabytes of data collected during the flyby. That data includes high-resolution images of Ultima Thule and spectra that can provide information about its composition.
What makes Ultima Thule interesting to scientists is that is part of a population of “cold classical” Kuiper Belt objects whose orbits, with low inclinations and eccentricities, suggest that they are pristine objects unaltered since the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.
“Nothing has happened to these things since they formed,” said John Spencer, a member of the New Horizons science team, at a pre-flyby briefing. “It’s a very special region that we’re very excited to explore.”
 

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The distant object that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past Jan. 1 is now taking shape as a body — or bodies — unlike any visited by a spacecraft to date.
At a Jan. 2 press conference at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) here, scientists working on the mission released new images showing that the Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 MU69, and nicknamed Ultima Thule, is a “contact binary,” two objects touching one another, with an appearance some likened to a snowman.
“Just like with Pluto, we could not be happier,” Alan Stern, the principal investigator for New Horizons, said, recalling the spacecraft’s 2015 flyby of that world. “What you’re seeing is the first contact binary ever explored by spacecraft: two completely separate objects that are now joined together.”
The shape of Ultima Thule had been the subject of speculation for years leading up to the flyby. The small object appeared as a point source in Hubble Space Telescope images, where it was discovered in 2014, and in images from New Horizons itself until a couple days before the flyby. Scientists speculated that it could be single, likely elongated object, or two objects closely orbiting each other.
The contact binary shape of Ultima Thule is consistent with models of the formation of the Kuiper Belt. “What we think we’re looking at is the end product of a process that probably took place only a few hundred thousand or maybe a few million years at the very beginning of the formation of the solar system,” said Jeff Moore of NASA’s Ames Research Center.
At that time the outer fringes of the solar system consisted of “innumerable small particles or pebbles,” Moore explained, that slowly coalesced into larger ones. That created the two bodies seen at Ultima Thule: a larger one, dubbed simply “Ultima,” that is 19 kilometers across, and a smaller one, “Thule,” 14 kilometers across.
The two bodies came together at a very low speed, he said, on the order of a few kilometers per hour, slow enough to preserve each object. “If you had a collision with another car at those speeds, you may not even bother to fill out the insurance forms,” he said.
That means that Ultima Thule is likely an object that dates back to the formation of the solar system, as scientists suspects prior to the flyby. “What we’re looking at is basically the first planetesimals,” Moore said. “These are the only remaining basic building blocks.”
There is some dispute among scientists, though, about whether Ultima Thule is the first contact binary seen. The nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, as seen by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft, has two lobes that appear connected by a narrow “neck” region. Moore said that the shape of that cometary nucleus could also be explained by activity as cometary ice sublimates.
Besides the improved images, scientists also refined other knowledge of the object. Cathy Olkin, deputy project scientist, said the object has a rotation period of approximately 15 hours. The images, she said, also showed some brightness variations on the surface, including a brighter area in the neck where the two bodies meet. That could be explained if the neck contains fine-grained particles that settle there from both lobes.
The first color images, taken at lower resolution, show that Ultima Thule has a red color. That color can be explained by irradiation of ices on its surface, said Carly Howett of the Southwest Research Institute.
The images don’t yet reveal much information about topography given the sun angle at the time New Horizons took the image, on approach to Ultima Thule at a distance of about 50,000 kilometers. That will change as later images, taken at different angles, are sent back, Moore said.
Also on its way back to Earth are spectral data collected by the spacecraft. Olkin said the initial data will focus on specific bands that could help scientists identify water ice or other volatiles.
The only issue with the flyby so far has nothing to do with the spacecraft or the object but rather the Ultima Thule nickname that the mission, with NASA’s concurrence, applied to the object. In just the last day some members of the public expressed reservations about the name because of ties to Nazi ideology.
Stern defended the choice of the name, noting that it dates back to the classical era, referring to the most distant northern lands. The name, he said, “is a wonderful meme for exploration, and that’s why we chose it.”
“And I would say that just because some bad guys once liked that term, we’re not going to let them hijack it,” he said, prompting a round of applause from team members and guests in the APL auditorium.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, defended the name as well. “If there is a connection, it is very tenuous,” he said of any Nazi ties to the name, emphasizing the “positive message” of the name. He added that searches for the term online turn up other, innocuous uses the name.
A Google search for “Ultima Thule” found not just references to the Kuiper Belt object and the mission but also a lodge in Alaska, Finnish glassware and an Australian radio show, among other citations.
Better photo will be coming,this is a low res photo , NASA pick the space probe to send back because its file size is small but to get back all the real data would take about 6 months.This is due to distance and the spaceprobe 10 watt radio and other space probe need to be listen to by the Deep Space Network plus only at each of the DSN there is only 1 antenna that can pick up this very weak radio wave and that is the 70 meter radio telescope and it can only listen to it for certain time period.
 

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