First Picture of Kuiper Belt Object

NASA’s deep solar system probe “New Horizons” made history in 2015 being the first space probe to visit Pluto, providing stunning images of the planet beloved by kids all over the world. After its mission completion on sending over the enormous volumes of data it collected, the probe’s mission was extended to do what no probe had done before. It was repurposed to now visit the Kuiper belt.

What is the Kuiper Belt?

For those of you who do not know what the Kuiper belt is, it is just a big cloud of protoplanetary material or giant space rocks that orbit the sun outside the orbit of Neptune. This bunch of space rocks are essentially the remanants of failed planets. The same stuff the solar system planets are made out of. It is thought that these rocks ( actually solidified ice, methane etc ) failed to become planets because they were too sparsely spaced to form stable planets. Pluto itself is thought to be a Kuiper Belt Object or KBO

In 2016, using the Hubble Space Telescope, a few KBOs were identified that NASA engineers and scientists thought could be suitable for New Horizons to visit and return data, given the amount of fuel left on the craft and the life of its radioisotope generators. Finally a space rock dubbed “Ultima Thule” was identified

New Horizons Reaches asteroid 486958 (2014 MU69) “Ultima Thule”

On Jan 1 2019, New Horizons made its closest flyby to Ultima Thule making it history as its the furthest object any spacecraft has visited. New Horizons came withing 2200 Km of the KBO. Reaching this Kuiper Belt object is truly and outstanding feat of mankind.

New Horizons LORRI instrument took this picture of Ultima Thule on Jan 1 2019
Asteroid 486958 (2014 MU69) taken by LORRI Instrument on board New Horizons Spacecraft on its Jan 01,2019 flyby. Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

As you can see, the asteroid has a snowman like structure. Scientists think the two parts of the ball were distinct objects before, until they collided and coalesced togther. the asteroid is approx 20 miles by 10 miles

Astronomy Night observation for the coming weekend Sept. 2018

Dear All,

The monsoon the receding and the season for stargazing is about to start. I would like to propose a night observation on the upcoming weekend Sept 15 (Saturday) at a campsite near Tijara. Rajasthan. We have conducted three such observations here in the past and the sky has been very supportive combined with rural skies which gives a limiting magnitude of 5.5 visually. You are welcome to bring your family and friends to enjoy the fist stargazing of the season.

The place is located about 75 KM from gurgaon and 110 KM from delhi. It is located 10KM off the Delhi – Alwar highway which makes it an optimum place within the driving distance from Delhi NCR. In last 3 observations organised, there have been 25-30 members participating each time. Age group of participants have been between 13 and 85 years.

The weekend of September 15 will show Moon, 4 planets, summer milky way along with plenty of DSOs in the evening whereas late in the night, winter constellations will show up making it a perfect setting for stargazers. We may also get to see the fading comet 21P/Giacobini–Zinner as it will be at its closest and brightest tonight.

The venue, a campsite used by my company for astronomy observations for school kids is absolutely safe with boundary wall, dark skies, tented accommodations, evening and mid night snacks along with dinner and breakfast. Tea coffee shall be provided in the evening and near mid night for us to keep going. Tents are provided for people driving their own vehicle to snooze for a couple of hours so that they are well rested and can hit the road in the morning. All you need to do is to pay Rs 1,850/- per person to avail the facilities and enjoy the night sky.

The weather seems promising with clear skies over the weekend. Temperature is expected to be between 22 and 34 degrees. Warm clothes are advised to be carried for the night. Carry your telescopes, cameras, star maps and any other thing you may require to explore the night sky.

Those of you interested in joining me can contact me at +91-9560338860 or simply reply to this email with your confirmation.

Hope to see many of you next weekend.

Clear skies
Sneh Kesari

Talk at Planetarium

Vigyan Prasar in association with Nehru Planetarium is organizing popular lecture at 10:00 AM tomorrow 23 August 2016 at Sky theater at planetarium. Interested people can join the programme.

The Speaker: Akshat Singhal,
Marie-Curie Fellow – Europe’s most competitive and prestigious awards, Early Stage Researcher (ESR) fellowship within the project Grawiton – European Marie Curie Action INT at Gran Sasso Science Institute in L’Aquila, Italy.

Title of Talk: “The sound of black holes”

Abstract:

Recently mankind has detected first gravitational waves as predicted by Albert Einstein 100 years with his theory of General Relativity. This discovery was considered as one of important discovery in the centuary. One of the most challenging experiment physicists ever undertook, measuring the change in length smaller than 1/1000th of a diameter of proton over 4km. We will discuss how many challenges are overcome and how did we achieve this endeavor.

Amazing Picture of the Day 6/6/2016

courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
volcanic euruption on Io seen from NASA’s New Horizons probe

Check out Tvashtar volcano on Io seen spewing molten material into space, as seen from New Horizons probe in 2007. Io experiences massive tidal forces from Jupiter’s gravity and this kind of volcanic eruption is not uncommon for Jovian moons. For a sense of scale, the volcanic plume is about 330 Km in altitude. New Horizon was built by John Hopkins Applied Phyisics Lab for a mission to Pluto. This photo was taken when it flew past Jupiter for a slingshot course correction towards Pluto.

Tonight’s Sky: June 2016 – Saturn in Opposition

Saturn in Scorpius
Looking South 2131 IST
Summer is here and one cannot miss Saturn and Mars in the night sky. Looking south-east, Saturn is a stunning magnitude 0 star right now, appearing towards the west limb of Scorpius ( more in Ophiuchus ). Saturn hits opposition tonight so its really bright. Also its rings are tilted 26 degrees to us earthlings, which means that small telescopes can get a really good viewing including the famous gap in the rings called the Cassini division. Mars also hit opposition a few days back so both planets should make backyard astronomers and enthusiasts extremely happy

Now don’t just sit there and read this. Grab your gear and get out and have fun under the sky.