NASA Current Affairs - 2019
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NASA has found evidence of a unique mixture of water ice, methanol, and organic molecules on Ultima Thule’s surface. This mixture is very different from most icy objects explored previously by spacecraft till date.
About Ultima Thule
- Nomenclature: Its scientific name is (486958) 2014 MU69. The words ‘Ultima’ and ‘Thule’ is its nickname. Ultima Thule, is a Greco-Latin term which means a distant unknown world.
- About: It is a trans-Neptunian object located in Kuiper belt (a circumstellar disc in outer Solar System). It is the farthest world ever explored by mankind. The flyby (close enough to record scientific data) of Ultima Thule is farthest exploration of an object till date. It is approximately 6.4 billion km from Earth.
- Discovery: It was discovered in 2014 by astronomers using Hubble Space Telescope as part of their search for a Kuiper belt object for New Horizons mission (which was an interplanetary space probe launched by NASA). On 1 January 2019 NASA’s New Horizons space probe’s flyby Ultima Thule making it the farthest object in Solar System visited by a spacecraft.
- Significance: The discoveries made about Ultima Thule are going to advance theories of solar system formation.
- Recently, NASA published first profile of Ultima Thule which reveals details about complex space object.
- Shape: The object is a contact binary, with two distinguishable differently shaped lobes. About 36 km long ‘Ultima Thule’ consists of a large (19 km), strangely flat lobe (Nicknamed Ultima) which is connected to a smaller (14 km), somewhat rounder lobe (nicknamed Thule), at a juncture which is called “the neck.” Both bodies seem to be planetesimal aggregates of much smaller building blocks, thus indicate that it could be most primitive object in Solar System.
- The alignment of axes of Ultima and Thule suggests that before merger two lobes must have become tidally locked, which means that same sides must have always faced each other as they orbited around same point.
- The largest depression found in Ultima Thule is about 8 km wide feature which is nicknamed as ‘Maryland crater’, is likely formed from an impact.
- It has an orbital period of about 298 years and a low inclination and eccentricity.
- Colour: In colour and composition, Ultima Thule resembles many other objects found in its area of Kuiper Belt. It is very red even redder even than Pluto (2,400-km wide). The reason for its reddish hue is believed to be the modification of organic materials on its surface.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has predicted that asteroid 99942 Apophis will fly towards the Earth in ten years. There is no need to worry since the asteroid will be about 31,000km away from the surface of the Earth.
Since it is relatively rare for such a large object like 99942 Apophis to pass so close to Earth, it will offer scientists around the world a great opportunity to conduct a close-up study of the Apophis’ shape, composition and possibly even its interior.
NASA has stated that about 2 billion people should be able to see it pass by with their naked eyes as it flies above Earth from the east coast to the west coast of Australia, then across the Indian Ocean and the equator, before moving west above Africa and finally over the Atlantic Ocean.
Scientists predict that Apophis still has a small chance of impacting Earth, less than 1 in 100,000 many decades from now.
Asteroid 99942 Apophis was discovered by US astronomers in 2004 and was named after the Egyptian god of chaos and destruction. It is a 370-meter diameter near-Earth asteroid.