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Finally we are learning more about MU69, the Strange, Flat Rock of the outer solar system



MU69
Image: NASA / Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute, National Observer for Optical Astronomy

New Horizons mission scientists have published the first peer-reviewed results of their study of the MU69 of 2014, demonstrating how "pristine" this object is.

(486958) 2014 MU69,Last Thule nicknamed, it seems to be a pair of rocks shattered together, about 10 kilometers in diameter. It revolves around the Sun at a distance of about 4,000 million miles (Pluton orbit around 3,700 million miles). It seems that it has remained relatively unchanged from the earliest time of the solar system, and it already presented some surprises when the spacecraft New Horizon once again transmitted its first images. Now, these first results are published and reviewed. But things are starting with this team.

"It's the first days," Gizmodo Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission said. "We are just reaching the point where we can breathe."

The astronomer Marc Buie discovered MU69 with pixels through the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014, and New Horizons scientists set their eyes on the object after a successful campaign taking images of the dwarf planet of Pluto. The object is a cold classic Kuiper belt object, which means it orbits the Sun in a relatively circular and imperturbable orbit. Unperturbed is a kind of topic when it comes to this rock; The authors of the study call it "pristine." Essentially, it is like a time capsule from the beginning of the solar system that has not been altered by the influence of the Sun or other planets.

New Horizons flew for the object and made detailed observations on January 1, 2019, and today, mission scientists have presented their first published set of peer-reviewed results in Science magazine. His initial analysis revealed some important things: first of all, the object is a bilobular contact binary, which means that there were two rocks that collided relatively slowly. Surprisingly, these rocks are flattened, not spherical. Secondly, there is no evidence of rings, satellites, dust, gas atmosphere or interaction with solar wind. Third, shine and texture appear to vary across the object, with lighter cliffs and shades of bright material, but the composition itself does not seem to vary.

These are just the initial results, and scientists will download New Horizons data for at least another year. But the researchers are already trying to understand the history of MU69. The object seems to have been formed after two nearby and homogeneous clouds of pebbles that were united under the influence of gravity, and then slowly merged with each other.

The scientists studying planetary formation are enthusiastic about the idea of ​​this pristine world. "We saw something that is more or less the way it was at the end of the formation of the planet, which was formed where it is now," said Christa Van Laerhoven, a postdoctoral scholar of the University of British Columbia who is not affiliated with the New Horizons team, told Gizmodo. He explained that MU69 It exists to a size that is too large because electromagnetism is the dominant force and it is too small for the effects of gravity to approach, which means that it could provide more data to help understand the process of planetary formation.

And the flattened shape of the object is especially mysterious. "It's a little surprising that there is something that is flat in the outer solar system," said Gizmodo Kat Volk, a scientist attached to the staff of the University of Arizona who does not belong to the New team Horizons Physicists tend to assume that things in space are spherical, so it will take some thought to understand how MU69 ended up looking for the way it does.

This is just an object, however, so we can not generalize the rest of the Kuiper belt. "If we could only see them, it would be really cool," said Volk. "Especially in this size range it is difficult to see from the ground [on Earth.]"

The New Horizons team hopes to continue studying the objects of the Kuiper Belt and the intermediate space, and could even plan an envelope of another object as the spacecraft continues its journey away from the Sun. say stern But before, there are surely more mysteries that hope to be found in the data still downloaded.


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