ultima-thule

Context:

The first detailed images beamed back by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft after its flyby of Ultima Thule show that the icy ‘worldlet’ resembles a reddish snowman.

About Ultima Thule

  • It is the most distant and possibly the oldest space object ever explored.
  • It has been renamed by International Astronomical Union(IAU) as Arrokoth’
  • It is one of many frigid bodies way out in the Kuiper Belt, the solar system's "third zone" beyond Neptune's orbit. 
  • It belongs to a class of Kuiper belt objects called the “cold classicals”, which have nearly circular orbits with low inclinations to the solar plane.

 

The Kuiper belt 

  • It is a circumstellar disc in the outer Solar System, extending from the orbit of Neptune to approximately 50 AU from the Sun.
  • It consists mainly of small bodies or remnants from when the Solar System formed.
  • While many asteroids are composed primarily of rock and metal, most Kuiper belt objects are composed largely of frozen volatiles (termed "ices"), such as methane, ammonia and water. 
  • The Kuiper belt is home to three officially recognized dwarf planets: Pluto, Haumea and Makemake. 

 

  • It used to be 2 separate objects. It likely formed over time as a rotating cloud of small, icy bodies started to combine. 
  • Eventually, 2 larger bodies remained & slowly spiraled closer until they touched, forming the current bi-lobed object.

 

NASA's New Frontiers program

  • The New Frontiers program is a series of space exploration missions being conducted by NASA with the purpose of researching several of the Solar System bodies, including the dwarf planet Pluto.
  • Missions under the program are as follows

New Horizons

Juno

OSIRIS-REx

Dragonfly 

It's the first Mission to the Pluto System and the Kuiper Belt.

 

It was launched in 2006 and reached Pluto in 2015

It is a space probe orbiting the planet Jupiter

 

It was launched in 2011 and entered Jupiter orbit in 2016

It will travel to a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu and bring a small sample back to Earth for study.

 

It was launched in September 2016

It is a planned spacecraft. It will send a mobile robotic rotorcraft lander to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.

 

International Astronomical Union (IAU)

  • It was founded in 1919. 
  • Its individual members are professional astronomers from all over the world, at the Ph.D. level and beyond, who are active in professional research, education and outreach in astronomy. 
  • Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects, including research, communication, education and development, through international cooperation.
  • The IAU is a member of the International Science Council (ISC).
    • The International Science Council (ISC) is a non-governmental organization with a unique global membership that brings together international scientific unions and associations and national and regional scientific organizations including Academies and Research Councils.
  • Activities of the IAU are as follows
    • The organization of scientific meetings.
    • Providing definition of fundamental astronomical and physical constants; unambiguous astronomical nomenclature 
    • Holding informal discussions on the possibilities for future international large-scale facilities.