New Horizons Deploys Global Team for Rare Look during Next Flyby Target

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On New Year’s Day 2019, some-more than 4 billion miles from home, NASA’s New Horizons booster will competition past a small Kuiper Belt intent famous as 2014 MU69 – creation this hilly vestige of heavenly arrangement a farthest intent ever encountered by any spacecraft.

But over a subsequent 6 weeks, a New Horizons goal group gets an “MU69” preview of sorts – and a possibility to accumulate some vicious encounter-planning information – with a singular demeanour during their aim intent from Earth.

On Jun 3, and afterwards again on Jul 10 and Jul 17, MU69 will mystic – or retard a light from – 3 opposite stars, one on any date. To observe a Jun 3 “stellar occultation,” some-more than 50 group members and collaborators are deploying along projected regard paths in Argentina and South Africa. They’ll repair camera-equipped unstable telescopes on a occultation star and watch for changes in a light that can tell them most about MU69 itself.

First look: Projected trail of a 2014 MU69 occultation shadow, opposite South America and a southern tip of Africa, on Jun 3.
Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

What Are They Looking at?

In simplest terms, an astronomical occultation is when something moves in front of, or occults, something else. “When a moon passes in front of a intent and we have a solar eclipse, that’s one kind of occultation,” pronounced Joel Parker, a New Horizons co-investigator from SwRI. “If you’re in a trail of an eclipse, it means you’re in a trail of a shade on Earth that’s combined by a moon flitting between us and a sun. If you’re station in a right place during a right time, a solar obscure can final adult to a few minutes.”

The group will have no such oppulance with a MU69 occultations. Marc Buie, a New Horizons co-investigator from SwRI who is heading a occultation observations, pronounced that since MU69 is so tiny – suspicion to be about 25 miles (40 kilometers) opposite – a occultations should usually final about dual seconds.  But scientists can learn a lot from even that, and observations from several telescopes that see opposite tools of a shade can exhibit information about an object’s figure as good as a brightness.

“Our primary design is to establish if there are hazards nearby MU69 – rings, dirt or even satellites – that could impact a moody planning,” pronounced New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “But we also design to learn some-more about a circuit and presumably establish a distance and shape. All of that will assistance feed a flyby formulation effort.”

A Space Challenge

The goal group has 22 new, unstable 16-inch (40-centimeter) telescopes during a ready, along with 3 others portables and over two-dozen fixed-base telescopes that will be located along a occultation trail by Argentina and South Africa. But determining accurately where to place them was a challenge. This sold Kuiper Belt intent was detected usually 3 years ago, so a circuit is still mostly unknown. Without a accurate repair on a object’s position – or on a accurate trail a slight shade competence take opposite Earth – a group is spacing a telescope teams along “picket blockade lines,” one each 6 to 18 miles (10 or 25 kilometers), to boost a contingency that during slightest one or some-more of a unstable telescopes will locate a core of a eventuality and assistance establish a distance of MU69.

New Horizons group members ready one of a new 16-inch telescopes for deployment to occultation regard sites in Argentina and South Africa.
Credits: Kerri Beisser

The other telescopes will yield mixed probes for waste that could be a risk to a fast-moving New Horizons booster when it flies by MU69 during about 35,000 miles per hour (56,000 kilometers per hour), on Jan. 1, 2019.

“Deploying on dual opposite continents also maximizes a chances of carrying good weather,” pronounced New Horizons Deputy Project Scientist Cathy Olkin, from SwRI. “The shade is likely to go opposite both locations and we wish observers during both, since we wouldn’t wish a outrageous charge complement to come by and cloud us out — a eventuality is too critical and too passing to miss.”

The group gets assistance from above for a Jul 10 occultation, adding a absolute 100-inch (2.5-meter) telescope on NASA’s airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). Enlisting SOFIA, with a vantage indicate above a clouds, takes a bad continue cause out of a picture. The craft also should be means to urge a measurements by maneuvering into a really core of a occultation shadow.

Insight for Encounter Planning

Any information on MU69, collected from a skies or on a ground, is welcome. Carly Howett, emissary principal questioner of New Horizons’ Ralph instrument, of SwRI, pronounced so small is famous about MU69 that a group is formulation observations of a aim it doesn’t entirely know – and time to learn some-more about a intent is short. “We were usually means to start formulation a MU69 confront after we flew by Pluto in 2015,” she said.  “That gives us dual years, instead of roughly 7 years we had to devise a Pluto encounter. So it’s a really opposite and, in many ways, some-more severe flyby to plan.”

If continue cooperates and likely targeting proves on track, a arriving occultation observations could yield a initial accurate distance and reflectivity measurements of MU69. These total will be pivotal to formulation a flyby itself – meaningful a distance of a intent and a reflectivity of a surface, for example, helps a group set bearing times on a spacecraft’s cameras and spectrometers.

“Spacecraft flybys are unforgiving,” Stern said. “There are no second chances. The arriving occultations are profitable event to learn something about MU69 before a encounter, and assistance us devise for a really singular flyby of a scientifically critical vestige of a solar system’s epoch of formation.”

Source: NASA

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