By the time New Horizons travels the remaining 80 million miles and reaches Ultima Thule on January 1, it will be more than 1 billion miles beyond Pluto. “It’s really a puzzle”, New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said.
NASA’s New Horizons probe is exploring the furthest regions of our Solar System and will be making a very special visit on New Year’s Day 2019, when it will buzz an object unofficially called Ultima Thule, also known as Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69. Ultima Thule, as we already know, is not spherically shaped. The probe will pass Ultima Thule in a week’s time at 12:33 a. m. EST on January 1, 2019.
When we see those high-resolution images, we’ll know the answer to Ultima’s vexing, first puzzle. Known as 2003 SD220, the massive space rock will pass Earth on December 22nd.
New Horizons will come within about 2,200 miles of Ultima Thule. Onboard the spacecraft, it’s three years older. Scientists have found a mysterious, distant object sitting at the edge of our solar system. The new object appears to suggest that is the case: it has an orbit that seems to suggest there is a Super-Earth wobbling it from afar. The newly discovered object is called 2015 TG387, is probably a small dwarf planet at just 300 km across, and is incredibly far away. But there could be many more of them than we have ever realised, the researchers said.
Now, if Sedna’s orbit was the result of capture during the Solar system’s youth, one might expect other objects to have shared the same fate. The extended observations show TG387’s orbit is even more extreme than Sedna’s. Instead,’ Oumuamua looked like an inactive, dark-red, solid chunk. The observation took a lot of time – it was the longest observation performed by the European Space Agency’s XMM – Newton space telescope, over 20 days in two sessions.
What will be the outcome no-one can say. And the find reinforces the idea that there are likely many more objects like it in our solar system orbiting out of sight. ( This article and its images were originally posted on ScienceAlert August 15, 2018 at 02:25AM. )
While most of these moons orbit Saturn and Jupiter, which are outside the Sun’s habitable zone, that may not be the case in other solar systems, said Stephen Kane, an associate professor of planetary astrophysics and a member of the University of California Riverside’s Alternative Earths Astrobiology Center.
“The image field is extremely rich with background stars, which makes it difficult to detect faint objects”, Hal Weaver, a New Horizons project scientist and LORRI principal investigator, said in a statement. But Dr Kipping said: “Both bodies, however, are considered to be gaseous and therefore unsuitable for life as we know it” .
As such, the existence of Planet Nine has always remained questionable. A new study gives credence to the theory and suggests that a ninth planet might actually exist. However, this too has been deemed impossible, since such an event should have taken place within the past 10 million years, which the scientist say is highly unlikely. It takes the planet 233 days to complete a single orbit around its cool red sun. It is so close that the next generation of telescopes may be able to image it directly, the researchers said. The new discovery of a single, much smaller planet orbiting Barnard’s star is based on a different observational technique called radial velocity. Even so, the size of the newly found planet is just on the edge of what current instruments can detect.
Two other planets had previously been found orbiting Gliese 876, a small red star known as an M dwarf, the most common type of star in the galaxy, but those were Jupiter-size gas giants. The research team believes that the largest near-earth asteroid, 1036. The cloud of dust will be about five million-billion kilograms in mass and about 1600 miles wide.
Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben