The mission team called it the "purpose of stretching" – right before the approach, to precisely specify a camera on NASA's New Horizons spacecraft to capture the most distinct images of the Kuiper Belt object named " Ultima Thule ", his new year's target and the most distant subject ever investigated.
Now that New Horizons sends these saved images back to Earth, the team can enthusiastically confirm that its ambition has been fulfilled.
These new Ultima Thule images – obtained by the Longhorn Spot telephoto (LORRI) – in just a minute and a half before the closest New Horizons approach to the issue (officially named 2014 MU69) at 12:33 EST on January 1 – offer resolution of around 110 feet (33 meters) per pixel. Their combination of high spatial resolution and favorable viewing angle gives the team an unprecedented opportunity to explore the surface, as well as the origin and evolution of the Ultima Thule – considered the most primitive object ever encountered by the spacecraft.
"Bolsai!" said New Horizons chief researcher Alan Stern of the Southwestern Research Institute (SwRI). "Obtaining these images required us to know exactly where the tiny Ultima and the New Horizons were – instantaneously – when they passed each other for more than 32,000 miles an hour in the faint light of Koiper's belt, a billion miles beyond Pluto." A much more rigorous observation than all that we tried on our flight in 2015.
"These observations of" stretching the target "were risky, because there was a real chance that we would get only a part or even none of Ultima in the narrow field of the camera. "Continuation," he continued. – But the scientific, operational and navigational teams have succeeded him, and the result is a field for our team on science! Some details we now see on the surface of Ultima Thule, unlike any objects that have ever been investigated before. "
This is not evident in previous images. Among them are several bright, mysterious, approximately round areas of the area. In addition, many small, dark pits near the terminator (the boundary between the sunshine and the dark sides of the body) are better resolved. "Whether these functions are craters made by drummers, submersible pits, holes for destruction, or something completely different, is discussed in our research team," said John Spencer, deputy scientist at SwRI.
Johns Hopkins Laboratory for Applied Physics has noted that the latest images have the highest spatial resolution of any New Horizons taken – or ever taken – throughout their mission. The new horizons flew about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) approximately three times closer to Ultima than in its first mission, Pluto, in July 2015.
Ultima Thule is less than Pluto, but Ultima flyby was made with the highest accuracy of navigation achieved by any spacecraft. This unprecedented accuracy was achieved through 2017 and 2018 land-engagement campaigns conducted in Argentina, Senegal, South Africa and Colombia, as well as in the mission of the European Space Agency Gaia, which provided the location of the stars used during
Look for these and others. LORRI image on New Horizons LORRI website this week. Camera snapshots are posted on the site every day
Mission Commander Alice Bowman of APL reports that the spacecraft continues to work flawlessly. New Horizons – almost 4.13 billion kilometers from Earth; At this distance, radio signals moving at light speeds reach the large antennas of the Deep Space Network NASA six hours and nineteen minutes after New Horizons sends them. Follow New Horizons on his ride through the Kuiper belt.
The newest and best looking Ultima Thule from New Horizons