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TechnologyDoes Ultima Thule have moons? Scientists want to know

09:46  05 january  2019
09:46  05 january  2019 Source:   bgr.com

Something Weird Is Going on With New Horizons' Next Target

Something Weird Is Going on With New Horizons' Next Target Ahead of the Jan. 1 rendezvous, strange readings from the New Horizons spacecraft suggest a mystery around its asteroid target. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is probably best known for the high resolution photos of Pluto that it took back in 2015. But on January 1, New Horizons will fly past an object even more distant than Pluto called Ultima Thule.

New Horizons' initial observations of Ultima Thule have been trickling back to Earth since the dawn On Thursday, January 3, New Horizons mission scientists revealed their best images of Ultima The good news: We'll have new science on Ultima Thule on a more or less weekly basis from February

The small, icy world known as Ultima Thule has finally been revealed. A new picture returned from Nasa's New Horizons spacecraft What does New Horizons do next? First, the scientists must work on the Ultima data, but they will also ask Nasa What does China want to do on the Moon 's far side?

Does Ultima Thule have moons? Scientists want to know© Provided by Penske Media Corporation Screen Shot 2019-01-02 at 2.03.14 PM

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft sped past the peculiar asteroid binary known as Ultima Thule on New Year’s Day, and it collected an incredible amount of data. In its first transmission to Earth after passing its target New Horizons told its handlers that it had filled its on-board data storage to the brim.

Now, as NASA prepares to have the spacecraft send back every bit of information it gathered during its encounter, scientists are eager to answer one question in particular: Does Ultima Thule have moons?

As Space.com reports, astronomers have built models that suggest Ultima Thule rotated much faster a long time ago, completing one full spin as quickly as every three hours. Today it takes around 15 hours to complete a rotation, but why is that?

NASA spacecraft hurtles toward historic New Year's flyby

NASA spacecraft hurtles toward historic New Year's flyby A NASA spacecraft is hurtling toward a historic New Year's Day flyby of the most distant planetary object ever studied, a frozen relic of the early solar system called Ultima Thule. 

Ultima Thule , as it's known , is still not showing any signs of craters, moons or rings. Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, said he expects to know within weeks or months, once better images arrive, whether Ultima Thule has any tiny moons or faint, narrow rings.

New Horizons scientists will share their first findings about Ultima Thule based on data the NASA spacecraft collected during its 5-hour flyby. The New Horizons science team created the first stereo image of Ultima Thule , which can be viewed with blue-and-red 3-D glasses.

It’s possible, researchers believe, that small moons orbiting Ultima Thule are responsible for slowing down the larger objects in the center. By exerting a pull on the central bodies the moons could gradually cause them to slow down, but that explanation is only viable if we can actually prove that Ultima Thule has moons to begin with.

But despite the fact that the flyby itself has come and gone, it’s going to take a while for scientists to actually answer this question and many others. That’s because New Horizons will continue to send back the data it’s storing for the next two years or so. The downlink between the spacecraft and Earth provides a trickle of data that will take years to sift through, and researchers have to wait and hope that the answer to the moon riddle is contained within it.

Furthermore, even if the data doesn’t reveal the presence of a moon (or several) orbiting Ultima Thule, it doesn’t mean that the binary didn’t have one or more moons in the past. The smaller bodies may have departed long ago, leaving no trace aside from the now slowly-spinning central unit.

NASA's faraway space snowman has flat, not round, behind.
New photos from the New Horizons spacecraft offer a new perspective on the small cosmic body 4 billion miles away.

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