NASA New Horizons space craft launched from Earth in 2006. In 2015, it passed Pluto, giving us the best images we’ve ever had of the ‘dwarf’ planet. And, in January 2019, it will attempt a flyby of Ultima Thule. In preparation for that flyby, the NASA New Horizons team is traveling all over the world with their telescopes looking for shadows cast from 4+ billion miles away. And, on Saturday they’ll have their last chance to do that.
Ultima Thule (2014 MU69) is an object about 20 miles long, or two co-orbiting objects about 9 miles to 12 miles long. And, it may have its own moon. The New Horizons team has used data from the Hubble Telescope to predict events where Ultima Thule will pass in front of, or “occult” a distant star, casting a brief shadow across that star.
When they witnessed this occultation last summer in Argentina and South Africa, they learned that the object could be two, it may have a moon, and they calculated a flyby as close as 2,175 miles. Remember, 2014 MU69 is in The Kuiper Belt, beyond Neptune and 4.1 BILLION MILES AWAY!! Is your mind blown? Because, mine is.
On August 4th, the New Horizons team will be at it again. They’ll be camping out in Colombia and Senegal, where slivers of shadow from billions of miles away might tell them more. It’s their last chance to witness an occultation before New Horizons flys by Ultima Thule in January 2019.