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NASA publishes the first scientific results of Kuiper Belt Flyby Science

Kuiper's first belt of "Flying Science"

This composite picture of Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 (called Ultima Thule) – presented on the cover of the May 17 issue of Science magazine – was gathered from data obtained from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft as he flew from the site on January 1, 2019. The image combines sophisticated color data (close to what the human eye sees) with detailed panchromatic high resolution images. Credits: NASA / Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University / Southwestern Research Institute / Roman Tacchenko

The NASA New Horizons team has released the first profile of the farthest world ever explored, a planetary block and a Cape Verde site called 2014 MU69.

Analyzing only the first data gathered during the New Horizons flyout of the New Horizons in 2019 (called Ultima Thule), the mission team quickly found an object that is much more complex than expected. The team published the first reviewed scientific results and interpretations – just four months after the fly-over – in the May 17 issue of Science magazine.

Besides being the furthest study of an object in history – four billion miles from Earth – Ultima Thule's flight is also the first investigation of each space mission of well-preserved planetsimus, an ancient relic from the time of the formation of the planet.

The initial data, summarized in Science, reveal a lot about the development, geology and composition of the site. This is a binary contact with two distinctly different parts. At about 36 kilometers in length, Ultima Thule consists of a large, oddly flat lobe (called "Ultima") connected to a smaller, slightly rounded lobe (called "Thule") at a junction called the "door". How the two lobbies have received their unusual form is an unexpected mystery that probably relates to how they formed billions of years ago.

The hooks have probably once gone around, like many so-called binoculars in Kaiper's belt, while some process has gathered them into what scientists have shown as a "gentle" merger. To do this, much of the binary pair's orbital impulse must have been scattered to gather objects, but scientists still do not know whether this is due to aerodynamic forces from gas in the ancient solar nebula or if Ultima and Thule throw away other partitions that are formed with them to dissipate energy and shrink their orbit. The arrangement of Ultima and Thule axes shows that prior to the merger the two shovels must have stopped, which means that the same sides have always collided with each other as they circle around the same point.

"We are looking at the well-preserved remnants of the ancient past," says Alan Stern, a New Horizon research scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. "There is no doubt that the findings made for Ultima Thule will change the theories about the formation of the solar system."

As reported by Science, New Horizons researchers also explore a range of surface features of Ultima Thule, such as bright spots and spots, hills and troughs, and Ultima Thule craters and pits. The largest depression is the 5-kilometer (8-kilometer wide) width that the team is called a Maryland Crater – which is probably formed by the impact. However, some smaller pits on the Kaiper belt may have been created from material falling into underground spaces or because of exotic ice passing from solid to gas (called sublimation) and leaving pits in its place.

By color and composition, Ultima Thule resembles many other objects found in the Keiper belt. It is very red – more red even more than 1,500-mile (2,400-kilometer) wide Plutowhich New Horizons explored at the inner edge of the Kaiper belt in 2015 – is actually the most red outer object of the Solar System ever visited by a spacecraft; It is believed that its reddish tinge is caused by the modification of organic materials on its surface. New Horizons scientists have found evidence of methanol, water ice and organic molecules on the surface of Ultima Thule, a mixture very different from most ice objects previously studied from spacecraft.

Data transmission from the flight continues and will continue until the end of the summer of 2020. Meanwhile, New Horizons continues to make new observations of additional Kuiper Belt objects that go into the distance. These additional CBCs are too remote to reveal discoveries like those of MU69, but the team can measure aspects such as the brightness of the subject. New Horizons continues to map the radiation and dust media of the charged particles in the Keiper belt.

The New Horizons spacecraft is now 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) of the Earth, operating normally and accelerating deeper into the Kaiper belt at nearly 33,000 miles (53,000 kilometers) per hour.

The Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University in Lorel, Maryland, designs, builds and manages the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission of the NASA's Science Mission Directorate. MSFC Planetary Management Office provides NASA oversight for new horizons. The Southwest Research Institute based in San Antonio runs the mission through Chief Researcher Stern and leads the team, payload operations, and meets scientific planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers program, run by the NASA Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Publication: S. A. Stern, et al., "Initial Results of the New Horizons Study of MU in 201469, a small object on the buckwheat belt, – Science 17 May 2019: Vol. 364, edition 6441, eaaw9771; DOI: 10.1126 / science.aaw9771

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