Space automatic interplanetary station “New horizons” space Agency NASA on the first day of the new year is going to fly past one of the most remote cosmic objects in the Solar system. Since their unforgettable meeting with Pluto in 2015, the probe flew away from the house even further and goes to transneptunian asteroid from the Kuiper belt — Ultima Thule (“Ultima Thule” or MU69 2014).
The object is about 6.6 billion kilometers from Earth. It was discovered in 2014 when the team probe chose a new target for research. In other words, we are very soap know about this object, but very soon New horizons will change.
At the moment scientists know that the length of the asteroid is about 30 kilometers is less than two percent of the diameter of Pluto.
“It is very difficult to reach. Much harder than to Pluto. Instead of the same size as the continental United States we fly to the object of the size of Boston. He’s not only 100 times less, but still 10,000 fainter than our previous goal,” says project lead Alan stern.
In addition, if we take into account that after Pluto, scientists had only four years in order to accurately calculate the trajectory of 2014 MU69 — the complexity of the task increased significantly. If you do not fail the calculations and everything goes as planned, the probe New horizons will fly past the asteroid’s surface at a distance of 3,500 kilometres with a speed of more than 14 kilometers per second.
At this speed the motion of the probe as well as distance and size of the object the complexity of his photographs will be similar to trying to take a picture of the car flying around her mosquito. And it if not to take into account the very small amount of sunlight around the outer border of our system is real dark.
The complexity does not end there. It should be understood that the radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), which works as the probe is degraded during the 13 years since the launch of the device, so the team need to be very careful in the choice – what research tools to use to study the asteroid. In its current state the battery is “New horizons” is able to give the power systems that the level of electricity consumption equivalent to three ordinary household light bulbs, says stern.
The mission team is now actively seeking in the field of asteroid cosmic dust and other small bodies which may be near Ultima Thule. And this is done not for scientific discoveries, but because all of these objects can pose a very great danger to spacecraft.
“If there is a cluster of asteroid debris, any body size with the usual grain of rice at this speed will tear the “New horizons” to shreds. If on the day of the flyby of asteroid we do not receive any signals from the device, then most likely, it will mean such a sad development,” explains stern.
But if all goes well, the probe will send to the Earth the first scientific data from space is in 2019. And, most likely, will contain information on the composition MU69 and temperature.
To choose the best images of the object will be very difficult. Flying past the asteroid, the probe “New horizons” will make a series of high quality pictures. Scientists hope to get even better pictures compared to the pictures of Pluto, because the device will be more than three times closer to the subject than last time. However, if the calculations of the trajectory of Ultima Thule to be faulty, even a little, we risk all to stay without photos of the asteroid and instead see only empty space.
With New horizons scientists also hope to find out for sure whether Ultima Thule one object strange shape (similar to an unfinished snowman), or that two objects with very close orbit around each other. Does not exclude the possibility that MU69 generally is a whole cluster of more compact bodies held by a common gravity.
Ultimately, the researchers hope that Ultima Thule will help them better understand the early history of our Solar system and its planets. According to astronomers, these objects, like the asteroid appeared in our system even before it formed the earth and the other planets. And since the object is very far from the Sun and is a very small celestial body that is not affected by geological activity, then we can be one of the most ancient planetary building blocks, which we will be able to see it firsthand.