New Horizons opts for primary flyby path around Ultima Thule 

The orbit of 2014 MU69 with the path of New Horizons [credit: NASA@Wikipedia]

“Ultima Thule” (2014 MU69) means “beyond the borders of the known world.” It takes nearly 300 years to orbit the Sun. Scientists ‘have no idea what to expect’.

After several weeks of sensitive searches for rings, small moons and other potential hazards around 2014 MU69, a Kuiper belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule, the dozen-member New Horizons hazard watch team gave the ‘all clear’ for the spacecraft to remain on a path that takes it about 2,200 miles (3,500 km) from Ultima Thule, instead of a hazard-avoiding detour that would have pushed it three times farther out, reports Sci-News.

“New Horizons is now targeted for the optimal flyby, over three times closer than we flew to Pluto. Ultima, here we come,” said New Horizons principal investigator Dr. Alan Stern, a researcher at Southwest Research Institute.

New Horizons will make its historic close approach to Ultima Thule at 12:33 a.m. EST on January 1, 2019.

With the probe blazing though space at some 31,500 mph (50,700 km per hour), a particle as small as a grain of rice could be lethal to the piano-sized probe.

The 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 the probe 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 yesterday, December 18, 2018.

Continued here.

via Tallbloke’s Talkshop

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December 19, 2018 at 10:12AM

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