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Guest: Dr. Alan Stern; Topics: The New Horizons flyby New Year's Day of Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt. Dr. Stern is the mission PI.
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We welcomed Dr. Alan Stern back to The Space Show to discuss in detail the New Horizons New Year's day 2018 flyby of the Kuiper Belt object, Ultima Thule (2014 MU69). During our one segment 62 minute discussion with Dr. Stern, he not only summarized the New Horizons mission to date, including the recent flyby of Pluto and its environment, but also the path out to Ultima Thule, how this Kuiper Belt body was selected for New Horizons, and what the spacecraft and mission control is doing as it approaches Ultima Thule for the flyby at about 32,000 mph (almost 9 miles/second). New Horizons will flyby the object at the closest point at 12:33 AM EST on January 1, 2019. Our guest spent time explaining the flyby process, what mission control will be doing from this point onward up to, during, and beyond the flyby, how images, data and even confirmation of the flyby will be obtained plus how long it will take to get information back given that New Horizons will be the most distant spacecraft from Earth on a planned mission. Alan explained the transmission time back to Earth for New Horizons based on its different positions.
Alan compared the Pluto flyby to what is expected with Ultima Thule. Don't miss this important comparison . As you will hear, there are high expectations for the Ultima Thule flyby, possibly with better resolution and information/data gathering than with Pluto. Listen to our guest explain why that might be the case. Our guest described what is best known about the Ultima Thule environment though as you will hear, very little is known about this object. Note what our guest said about sunlight reaching Ultima Thule, warmth and the cold temperature regarding Ultima Thule as a model for things at the time of the Big Bang.
Many listeners called the show with multiple questions about Ultima Thule, the New Horizons spacecraft, even Pluto. Listeners wanted to know about the RTG and its available life remaining timeline for useful power, when all the data obtained from the Ultima Thule flyby would have be transmitted to Earth, possible future missions, Ultima Thule rotation issues, spacecraft hibernation, and how Ultima Thule pictures would be taken with sufficient light plus what type of resolution they anticipated having for Ultima Thule photographs.
Later, I asked Alan about the mission objectives. He said there were four major objectives but several additional objectives. For the major objectives he said they wanted to know about surface composition, they wanted to study the atmosphere, to determine if there might be satellites or rings for Ultima Thule and they wanted to map the surface using many different ways of doing so. Listeners sent in several emails which I read on air. Alan had the opportunity to talk with all the callers to the show. Some listeners wanted to know about Ultima Thule gravity, potential additional nearby Kuiper Belt objects, while others wanted to know about the Voyager missions now in interstellar space. They wanted to know if New Horizons would get to interstellar space and if so, when. This prompted Alan to share lots of interesting information about the boundary of our solar system with interstellar space, explaining how that boundary changes from time to time based on the sun's energy. The boundary, known as the heliosphere, is unknown at this time for when New Horizons would be that far from Earth. Thus, it is hard to know today when or even if it will get to interstellar space. Don't miss what our guest had to say on this topic.
Before the program ended, Alan was asked about the continued operational costs for New Horizons and the mission costs. Alan went through these costs in some detail so don't miss it. He also compared the cost of New Horizons to the Voyager mission in today's dollars. This was a fascinating and very enlightening comparison. Don't miss it.
The New Horizons team will be live streaming from mission control at the Applied Physics Lab New Year's eve so you can tune in and watch what is going on, join in with the celebration and hear for the first time ever the song that was composed for this event by checking out the website for more info by artist Brian May, https://www.express.co.uk/news/science/1061441/Queen-Brian-May-new-single-music-Nasa-New-Horizons-Ultima-Thule. You can get more information on the flyby with New Horizons here including streaming information: http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/Where-to-Watch.php. Also, check out the following:
Please post comments/questions on TSS blog for this show. You can reach Dr. Stern through the New Horizons website or through me.
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