Tag Archives: asteroid

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

Apophis to Impact Earth in 2036?

In 2004, astronomers at Kitt Peak Observatory in Arizona, USA discovered a near earth asteroid, dubiously named 99942 Apophis. The asteroid is about 200 m across in diameter. It became famous for being an asteroid with a rating of 4 on the Torino Imapact Hazard scale. Since 2006, the asteroid had been demoted to 0. However recent studies into the asteroid’s orbit has questioned the accuracy of this rating. Scientist in Russia think that there is a very real chance this asteroid will impact earth in 2036.

This observation has been refuted by NASA. According to Donald Yeomans, director of NASA’s near earth objects office claims that the probability of impact is currently 1/250,000.

Apophis will come within 5 earth radii distance of the earth in 2029. However if the asteroid passes within a region of space called the “keyhole” during this period, the orbit might change enough to cause impact with earth.
The predicted date of impact is April 13, 2036.

Impact Consequences
Apophis carries a massive Kinetic energy of 5.1e+02 Mega Tonnes of TNT equivalent. To put numbers in perspective, the Hiroshima nuclear bomb had a 20 Kilo tonnes yield.

However from preliminary calculations we did based on this article, a Apophis class asteroid will create a 4 Km wide impact crater on a direct hit.

Predicted possible impact locations of Apophis