NASA’s faraway space snowman has flat, not round, behind

This Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, file image made available by NASA shows the Kuiper belt object Ultima Thule, about 1 billion miles beyond Pluto, encountered by the New Horizons spacecraft. (AP)
Updated 12 February 2019
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NASA’s faraway space snowman has flat, not round, behind

  • New Horizons is already 32 million miles (52 million kilometers) beyond Ultima Thule

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: The faraway space snowman visited by NASA last month has a surprisingly flat — not round — behind.
New photos from the New Horizons spacecraft offer a new perspective on the small cosmic body 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away. The two-lobed object, nicknamed Ultima Thule, is actually flatter on the backside than originally thought, according to scientists.
Pictures released late last week — taken shortly after closest approach on New Year’s Day — provide an outline of the side not illuminated by the sun.
When viewed from the front, Ultima Thule still resembles a two-ball snowman. But from the side , the snowman looks squashed, sort of like a lemon and pie stuck together, end to end.
“Seeing more data has significantly changed our view,” Southwest Research Institute’s Alan Stern, the lead scientist, said in a statement. “It would be closer to reality to say Ultima Thule’s shape is flatter, like a pancake. But more importantly, the new images are creating scientific puzzles about how such an object could even be formed. We’ve never seen something like this orbiting the sun.”
Project scientist Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University, home to New Horizons flight control center, said the finding should spark new theories on how such primitive objects formed early in the solar system.
Ultima Thule — considered a contact binary — is the most distant world ever explored. New Horizons zipped past it at high speed, after becoming the first visitor to Pluto in 2015. Mission managers hope to target an even more distant celestial object in this so-called Kuiper Belt, on the frozen fringes of the solar system, if the spacecraft remains healthy.
New Horizons is already 32 million miles (52 million kilometers) beyond Ultima Thule. It will take another 1 ½ years to beam back all the flyby data.
The spacecraft rocketed from Florida in 2006.


India to make new bid to launch Moon rocket on Monday

Updated 18 July 2019
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India to make new bid to launch Moon rocket on Monday

  • India would become the fourth nation to land a spacecraft on the moon
  • The project is one of the cheapest amongst its kind internationally

NEW DELHI: India will make a new bid to launch a landmark mission to the Moon on Monday, a week after aborting lift-off at the last minute because of a fuel leak, officials said.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said it had rescheduled the launch of Chandrayaan-2, or Moon Chariot-2, for 2:43 p.m. (0913 GMT) on Monday.
India is aiming to become just the fourth nation after Russia, the United States and China to land a spacecraft on the Moon.
Indian space chiefs called off the planned launch of the rocket 56 minutes before blast-off on Monday morning because of what ISRO called a “technical snag.”
Media reports quoted ISRO scientists saying a helium fuel leak had been detected.
India has spent about $140 million on preparations for the project, which is one of the cheapest among international space powers.
By comparison, the United States spent about $25 billion — the equivalent of more than $100 billion in current prices — on 15 Apollo missions in the 1960s and 70s.
The rocket will launch from a space center in Sriharikota, an island off the coast of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
It will carry an orbiter, lander and a rover which has been almost entirely designed and made in India.
The orbiter is meant to keep circling the Moon for about one year, taking pictures of the surface and sending back information on the atmosphere.
A lander named Vikram will take the rover to the surface near the lunar South Pole.
India’s first lunar mission in 2008 — Chandrayaan-1 — did not land on the Moon, but carried out a search for water using radar.
A soft landing on the Moon would be a huge leap forward in India’s space program, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi determined to launch a manned mission into space by 2022.
India also has ambitions to land a probe on Mars. In 2014, India became only the fourth nation to put a satellite into orbit around the Red Planet.