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  1. #1
    gleeful gleeful is offline

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    New Horizons for Ultima Thule

    Ultima Thule is an ancient phrase which means "borders of the known world". On a map from 1539 its represented as a place where monsters lurk.



    In this more scientific age, it refers to an 'object' which lurks far in the distant reaches of the solar system, 46 times farther from the Sun than Earth. Its formal name is "(486958) 2014 MU69" We know so little about this thing, that it may not be a single thing at all - it could well be several things close together. Our scientific knowledge of it comes entirely from a mix of light and darkness.

    On the side of light, we have a total of 144 photons which traveled to us the 380 light-minutes distances before colliding with the sensors on the Hubble space telescope last year.

    On the side of darkness, scientists have traveled to remote points on the earth to witness the microscopic shadow Ultima Thule casts on our planet as it eclipses even more distant stars. As a few photons which should arrive to us dont, we gain information on how big the object is. Its probably 30km across.

    Ultima Thule is so dark and cold that scientists think it has existed since the formation of the solar system and hasn't had any interaction with anything else since. Totally unchanging, dead and silent, for nearly 5 billion years.

    Why is this interesting? Well, on January 1st 2019, a spacecraft called New Horizons. Its left earth in 2006 and has been moving at 50,000 km/h since. You may remember that in 2015 it buzzed past Pluto and took an amazing series of photos.

    Ultima Thule is next. We have no idea what New Horizons will show us.
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  2. #2
    gerhard dengler gerhard dengler is offline
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    Very interesting stuff. It will be interesting to see if new horizons can provide us with more info about this sector of the near solar system
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  3. #3
    CatullusV CatullusV is online now

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    Those distances are almost incomprehensible , as is the ability to find such a mote of dust. It will be very interesting to see the results.
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  4. #4
    Notachipanoaktree Notachipanoaktree is offline

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    Like this except a lot bigger, less colorful, less alive stuff, and a lot more expensive to get a snap.

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  5. #5
    jmcc jmcc is offline

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    To some of us, it is a Tangerine Dream album
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  6. #6
    gleeful gleeful is offline

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    Quote Originally Posted by CatullusV View Post
    Those distances are almost incomprehensible , as is the ability to find such a mote of dust. It will be very interesting to see the results.
    46 AU is 7,000,000,000 km.

    If you were to drive that distance at a steady 100km/h, it would take 8000 years.

    But in terms of the size of the universe: the nearest star from earth is 5000 times farther than Ultima Thule. The other side of the Galaxy is 120 million times farther than Ultima Thule. The edge of the universe is 460 thousand times larger than our Galaxy.
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  7. #7
    Lumpy Talbot Lumpy Talbot is offline

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    There's some TD somewhere trying to figure out how to get Ultima Thule on his mileage docket.
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  8. #8
    Kevin Parlon Kevin Parlon is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by gleeful View Post
    46 AU is 7,000,000,000 km.

    If you were to drive that distance at a steady 100km/h, it would take 8000 years.

    But in terms of the size of the universe: the nearest star from earth is 5000 times farther than Ultima Thule. The other side of the Galaxy is 120 million times farther than Ultima Thule. The edge of the universe is 460 thousand times larger than our Galaxy.
    I'm glad you followed up with this because, relatively speaking, that object is as close as a second coat of paint and a mere 20 years away travelling no faster than we have done before. Also, what do you mean by "the edge of the universe is larger" ? Your sums sound off. You could stuff The milky way into the observable universe over a quintillion times.
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  9. #9
    gleeful gleeful is offline

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Parlon View Post
    I'm glad you followed up with this because, relatively speaking, that object is as close as a second coat of paint and a mere 20 years away travelling no faster than we have done before. Also, what do you mean by "the edge of the universe is larger" ? Your sums sound off. You could stuff The milky way into the observable universe over a quintillion times.
    I mean the diameter of the universe vs the diameter of the galaxy.
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  10. #10
    Kevin Parlon Kevin Parlon is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by gleeful View Post
    I mean the diameter of the universe vs the diameter of the galaxy.
    Your sums are off!
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