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Planetary RadioJanuary 9, 2019

New Horizons Flyby: Join the Celebration!

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On This Episode
Alice Bowman thumbnail
Alice Bowman

New Horizons Mission Operations Manager

Helene Winters thumbnail
Helene Winters

New Horizons Project Manager

Hal Weaver
Hal Weaver

New Horizons Project Scientist, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab

Michael Ryschkewitsch thumbnail
Michael Ryschkewitsch

JHU APL Space Exploration Sector Head

Andrew Chaikin
Andrew Chaikin

Author, Speaker, Space Historian

Alan Stern
Alan Stern

New Horizons Principal Investigator, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Jim Green
James Green

Chief Scientist, NASA

Brian May
Brian May

Astrophysicist and Queen Guitarist

Headshot of Heidi Hammel
Heidi Hammel

Vice President of the Board of Directors of The Planetary Society and AURA Executive Vice President

John Culberson
John Culberson

Former Congressman, R-TX

Marc Buie thumbnail
Marc Buie

2014 MU69/Ultima Thule Discoverer

John Spencer
John Spencer

New Horizons Deputy Project Scientist, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Headshot of Bruce Betts
Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager, The Planetary Society

Headshot of Mat Kaplan
Mat Kaplan

Planetary Radio Host and Producer

Join us at the Applied Physics Lab in Maryland for the New Horizons encounter with the most distant object ever visited. You’ll meet mission leaders, friends and even a rock and roll star as we dive deep into this triumph of exploration. Then Bruce Betts helps us prepare for the total lunar eclipse.

Image of 2014 MU69/Ultima Thule unveiled

Mat Kaplan

Image of 2014 MU69/Ultima Thule unveiled
The 100 pixel image of 2014 MU69/Ultima Thule returned by New Horizons is unveiled at the Applied Physics Lab on January 2, 2019.

Color image of 2014 MU69 from New Horizons


Color image of 2014 MU69 from New Horizons
This photo combines a color image taken by New Horizons' Ralph MVIC instrument with a LORRI image taken near the same time. It is an enhanced color image, featuring infrared, red, and blue channels. It was taken at a distance of 137,000 kilometers on 1 January 2019 at 04:08 UT, slightly more than an hour before closest approach. Note the reduced red coloring at the neck of the object.
Brian May

Mat Kaplan

Brian May
Queen guitarist and New Horizons team member Brian May.
New Horizons flyby

Mat Kaplan

New Horizons flyby
The New Year's Eve crowd at the Applied Physics Lab celebrates the New Horizons flyby of the most distant object ever encountered.
Mat Kaplan and Alan Stern

Mat Kaplan

Mat Kaplan and Alan Stern
Planetary Radio host Mat Kaplan at the Applied Physics Lab with New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern.
The New Horizons Mission Operations Center at the Applied Physics Lab

Mat Kaplan

The New Horizons Mission Operations Center at the Applied Physics Lab

Trivia Contest

This Week’s Prizes:
Robert Kurson’s Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8. The full set of five KickAsteroid stickers from the Planetary Society Chop Shop store and a 200-point astronomy account.

This week's question:

When is the next total lunar eclipse after this month’s that will be seen from Earth?

To submit your answer:

Complete the contest entry form at or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, January 16th at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.

Last week's question:

Is 2014 MU69 or “Ultima Thule” a binary, a contact binary, or none of the above? (No one will know till after New Horizons sends back higher resolution images!)


The answer will be revealed next week.

Question from the December 26th space trivia contest question:

In their current orbits, which object gets farther from the Sun at some point, Pluto or 2014 MU69?


Pluto comes closer to the Sun than 2014 MU69/Ultima Thule during a portion of its very eccentric orbit.


[Mat Kaplan]: New Horizons encounters Ultima Thule this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome and happy New Year once again. I'm Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. You already know that the New Horizon spacecraft successfully flew by that far away object known officially as 2014 MU69. And you may know that I was at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab to cover this most distant ever encounter for Humanity. I'm going to use this week's episode to take you behind the scenes. We'll meet many of the leaders of this magnificently successful mission along with some of the great people who gathered at APL for what we all hoped would be a celebration. You'll hear from author and space historian Andy Chaikin; New Horizons Principal Investigator, Alan Stern; astrophysicists, member of the New Horizons team, and [00:01:00] guitarist for Queen, Brian May; along with many others. We'll close the show as we always do by visiting with Bruce Betts for What's Up. My red eye flight from California got me to Baltimore on the morning of December 29th. I had just enough time to reach the Applied Physics Lab to join a tour. There were two and a half days to go before New Horizons would make its closest approach to 2014 MU69. By the way, absolutely no one at APL referred to it by that name.a It was, and is, Ultima Thule to the mission team and friends. There would be a huge media presence by New Year's Eve, but on Saturday morning there were only a few of us who were brought to the Mission Operations Center, the control room for New Horizons. Alice Bowman of APL greeted us there. Alice has served as the New Horizons Mission Operations Manager or MOM for many years. It was a busy moment with the spacecraft in the midst of communication with the [00:02:00] Deep Space Network, but Alice stepped out to talk with us.

[Alice Bowman]: Today is the last optical navigation measurement that's coming in that will be used in that solution.

[Reporter]: So once you get through today, can you sit back and relax?

[Alice Bowman]: No, there's another you know set of worries that we have after today.

[Mat Kaplan]: Still just a point of light?

[Alice Bowman]: Yes. Yes. I think we're almost, I think we're at a pixel, maybe? The health of the spacecraft is great. We still have all of our redundant systems that are operational.

[Mat Kaplan]: Helene Winters was also on hand that morning. Helene took over the job of New Horizons Project Manager almost three years ago. Big moment here. And this is a very special moment for those of us who got here early and are able to join you here at the Mission Operations Center.

[Helene Winters]: Yes. It's an exciting time. We'll fly by Ultima Thule. It's just one of the most primitive objects and we'll have a look at it very shortly. New Year's morning, 12:33. [00:03:00]

[Mat Kaplan]: We just heard Alice Bowman telling us everything is nominal which is a very good thing.

[Helene Winters]: Yes, the spacecraft, the subsystems, the payload. Everything is operating nominally.

[Mat Kaplan]: When the big moment comes, it's really... what will be going through here is really a simulation on a timeline because you won't be talking to the spacecraft, right?

[Helene Winters]: Right. When we make observations, we're not able to downlink the data at the same time because we have to turn the spacecraft. We'll make the observations and then turn the spacecraft to downlink the data. On July 14th of 2015 we flew... did the close flyby of Pluto. So it's been a while but we have most of the same team and we're using a lot of the same processes that we did for our flyby of Pluto, a lot of the lessons learned we've implemented.

[Mat Kaplan]: And no surprises like you had just days before the Pluto encounter?

[Helene Winters]: No, certainly and we did make adjustments to ensure that, that the... that doesn't happen again on this flyby. [00:04:00]

[Mat Kaplan]: Yeah you don't want that kind of excitement.

[Helene Winters]: Exactly.

[Mat Kaplan]: Can't wait for the encounter.

[Helene Winters]: We're very excited.

[Mat Kaplan]: Thank you.

[Helene Winters]: Thank you.

[Mat Kaplan]: From the Mission Operations Center we were bused to a big room full of boisterous men and women. This was the New Horizons Science Team, but it sounded more like a middle school lunchroom with scientists in a score of disciplines getting reacquainted and excitedly sharing data. The Science Team is led by Project Scientist Hal Weaver, a past guest on Planetary Radio.

[Hal Weaver]: like right now, we're in the middle of the where the densest portion of the Kuiper Belt. We actually fly relatively close to a bunch of small Kuiper Belt objects and we get unique geometries from the spacecraft. You know, we get angles that you can't get from the Earth. And so they can tell us something about reflectivity of the surface, but we can also search for potentials moons around those objects that you can't do from anywhere else. You know, so we're learning something about the relatively small objects in the [00:05:00] Kuiper Belt, which are by far the most numerous that we can't get any other way.

[Mat Kaplan]: Would the most surprising thing about Ultima Thule being not being surprised by what you find?

[Hal Weaver]: I think it's hard not to be surprised because none of us have a, you know, clue as to what we're going to see, really. I mean we look at the other small bodies of the solar system that we've observed so far, the cometary nuclei... like for example, that's what I'm going to be focusing on my initial look at the results is to compare the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko to what we see on Ultima Thule. Now the comets we see, the small cometary nuclei, they made many passages through the inner solar system and have been heated up and have shown a lot of activity that presumably are responsible for a lot of the features you see on their surfaces. So I don't expect Ultima Thule to really look like them but we've identified different geological regions on the nucleus of Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko and maybe some of them can be [00:06:00] replicated on Ultima Thule. But also the the small moons of the giant planets, the icy moons. Is there... are there any commonalities? The fact that you have some of these small moons of the giant planets, it's a very different environment that when Ultima Thule is. You don't have the tidal interactions with the giant planet that can stir up the interior and cause things to happen. You don't have the particles being generated they can now impact the surfaces on those objects that you have and they're not these giant magnetospheres either, around the giant planets you have these giant magnetosphere. So for these reasons, the environments being so different, it's hard to imagine what Ultima Thule is going to look like.

[Mat Kaplan]: You all expected to be surprised by Pluto. You told people we'd be surprised, but it was far more surprising than anybody expected.

[Hal Weaver]: Yeah, that's true. I mean Pluto itself... In this particular case we just know so little about the body and its environment is so [00:07:00] different than anything else that we've ever observed that most of us are, you know we'll be surprised because I mean, it's not... I expect to see some commonality with things that we've seen before, but who knows.

[Mat Kaplan]: With our tour concluded we were brought back to the complex that would be our home throughout the flyby and beyond. One enthusiastic young reporter caught my eye. Accompanied by her parents, she had been taking copious notes during the tour.

[Kira Walsh]: Hi, my name is Kira Walsh. I'm 12. And I'm right now reporting for News-O-Matic.

[Mat Kaplan]: I suspect that you're going to be the youngest journalist covering this flyby of New Horizons.

[Kira Walsh]: I think I might be I'm not quite sure.

[Mat Kaplan]: What have you been up to today? I mean what have you found most interesting?

[Kira Walsh]: Um, I'm not really sure. There's a lot of interesting points. But the thing I find most interesting is that the light doesn't really change.

[Mat Kaplan]: The light curve, right?

[Kira Walsh]: That's the one, yeah.

[Mat Kaplan]: Yeah, which is a big mystery. I mean, [00:08:00] that's something we talked to Alan Stern on our show about just a couple of weeks ago and it's one that the scientists can't figure out yet.

[Kira Walsh]: Yeah, I don't really know. I've heard different opinions from all over. It could be spherical. It could be one light one dark. It could be a dust cloud. But no one's really sure.

[Mat Kaplan]: Yeah, you've obviously been paying pretty good attention. How many pages of notes you have there? You've been taking lots of notes.

[Kira Walsh]: Five.

[Mat Kaplan]: That's pretty good for one morning. Was it fun to see people who are that much older than you getting that excited about something?

[Kira Walsh]: Yeah, kind of. You see like these people actually getting excited and it's kind of fun.

[Mat Kaplan]: I look forward to seeing your story. Thank you so much.

[Kira Walsh]: Thank you.

[Mat Kaplan]: This was my first time at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. It was a long overdue visit. JHU is justly proud of the enormous success it has enjoyed in space exploration since very nearly the beginning of the Space Age.[00:09:00] It is the home of the Parker Solar Probe, of the Messenger Mission to Mercury, the upcoming Double Asteroid Redirection Test or DART Mission, of the proposed Dragonfly Mission that may send a nuclear-powered drone to Saturn's moon Titan, and of the New Horizons mission, of course.

[Michael Ryschkewitsch]: So I'm Mike Ryschkewitsch. I head the Space Exploration sector here at APL.

[Mat Kaplan]: Even in just those last five years that you've been at APL you've seen some pretty big successes come out of this place.

[Michael Ryschkewitsch]: Oh it's been, it's been marvelously exciting. I mean, it's really really hard to match something like the the Pluto flyby, just the number of people that were involved in that, the knowing that you were, you know, we had just enough information about Pluto before that to be intrigued that this was going to be perhaps more complicated than anybody imagined and then what you saw in that evening and then in the morning and the days after just blew our socks off. Just so so exciting such a dynamic world. [00:10:00] So diverse and everything that's going on there. It's... you couldn't have had a better setup for the scientists, a million questions that are going to take a career to answer.

[Mat Kaplan]: And a heck of an engineering achievement as well. I don't know if you've read Alan's book, Alan and David Grinspoon's book <em>Chasing New Horizons</em>. But a lot of the book is devoted to getting this Mission literally off the ground. And it in part came down to a competition between this facility and those other guys who do such a great job on the west coast: JPL APL.

[Michael Ryschkewitsch]: We call them the other PL, they call us the other PL.

[Michael Ryschkewitsch]: And I would say JPL East but I'm guessing you might bristle at that a bit.

[Michael Ryschkewitsch]: We'd rather call them APL West.

[Mat Kaplan]: He painted a pretty good picture of APL. He made it really clear that he was happy to be working with you guys. Nothing against JPL, which has a tremendous record of success as you know, but about what APL brings to missions like this. Can you talk about that?

[Michael Ryschkewitsch]: I think the the secret sauce is that we are [00:11:00] actually smaller. And so that that gives us an ability to talk to communicate to make decisions in a way that are very hard to do with a bigger Mission. It's a lack of fear in asking the hard question. It's a boldness to go grab and try to do something that's really hard and some courage to know that hey we've done this before, other folks that are like this have done this before and let's go try this and see if we can pull it off. With, you know... to New Horizons, there were many many people that bet that that team would not have succeeded, that especially that they would not have succeeded in time to get the Jupiter flyby and to take that five years or thereabouts off of that mission. And they just knuckle down and tried to find a way to go make that happen. A team like this, they get committed to an idea. And when you have something as marvelous as the first flyby of the ninth planet, the ninth classical planet, in everyone's mind it was still that, [00:12:00] and you get to do another first in the solar system, that's galvanizing for folks. And I've talked to folks, I think some of them are quoted in the book, that said when they first heard about this they said oh my goodness what have we been signed up to go do? And then they said no we were going to go figure out a way to go make this happen. And that's that's kind of the beginning of any of these enterprises is people say, man, we've got to go do this.

[Mat Kaplan]: And here we are even further out approaching Ultima Thule.

[Michael Ryschkewitsch]: Yeah, and that's not the end right. It may be called Ultima, but we're hoping that there's a there's one or more thing still out there. So, you know, we'll be spending a little bit of that precious fuel to do the surveys with our cameras, keep looking and see if there's something close enough to our flight path to be able to divert just a little bit and get another flyby in. There millions of Kuiper Belt objects and things out in the Oort cloud. And yes, we believe we have one that's probably unchanged since the formation of the solar system. But you got a sample of [00:13:00] one. It would be really nice to get a sample of two or sample of three.

[Mat Kaplan]: It always takes a great team to make these things happen. But there's always a leader of that team, in this case, Alan Stern. You used to call him the busiest man in space exploration. Can you talk about the role that he's played as Principal Investigator?

[Michael Ryschkewitsch]: Alan was was really the driving force of this from day one. There had been some studies before they actual formal competition. That said, you know, maybe there's a chance to do this in a different way than we thought about and not be multiple billions of dollars and things like that. But Alan was the driving force behind that of saying, you know, we got to go do this. This is this is important science. It's important for carrying man's... Mankind's banner, humankind's banner out into the into the outer solar system. And so he was the driving force from day one. And a lot of what happens within a team is when they get a dynamic leader like that that lays out that compelling vision they buy in and say I want to be part of this. I've got to be part of [00:14:00] this, I can I can make this happen and I will make this happen.

[Mat Kaplan]: I headed to my hotel for some much-needed sleep. The next day was Sunday, December 30th. The media crowded APL was quite a bit larger and other guests were beginning to arrive. Andrew Chaikin is an old friend. You may know him as the best-selling author of <em>A Man on the Moon</em>, the book that became the Tom Hanks miniseries <em>From the Earth to the Moon</em>, and other work that he's joined us in the past to talk about. He's working on a new book about the sociological aspects of success and failure in space exploration. Andy Chaikin, not a surprise to find you here. But you have even more going on that I was aware of. I mean, are you hear more as a journalist or what?

[Andrew Chaikin]: No I'm actually here is a team member. I was at the Pluto encounter as an embedded journalist in the Geology Geophysics and Imaging Team and then I became a full-time team member. And so I'm sort of the team historian and I'm here as I was last time on the inside, [00:15:00] which is an incredible place to be to see this adventure unfold, just amazing. By the way, I want to say that the New Horizons mission is one of the best examples that I can point to of success culture that was created not only here at APL the Applied Physics Lab, but also within the mission teams by Alan Stern the Principal Investigator. One of the things he did was to set up the science teams so that there would not be an impetus to hoard data and...

[Mat Kaplan]: Get territorial.

[Andrew Chaikin]: To get territorial, exactly, which is happened on other other robotic space missions. He saw that, he knew that was a threat to success. So he took the initiative to create a culture within the project that would avoid that. And everywhere you look in New Horizons you see examples of this success culture. And it is absolutely astonishing the level of [00:16:00] ingenuity, the level of skill and persistence, the people working on this Mission have been together since the 1990s many of them striving to explore Pluto and and even beyond and by God here we are doing it. And the accuracy that they're getting in their trajectory to this small body, which is so faint it had to be discovered with Hubble. It's just mind blowing. It's one of the things that makes me feel so blessed for the life journey that I've had and so many of us feel the same way.

[Mat Kaplan]: Much of Sunday was devoted to media encounters with leaders of the New Horizons Mission. They included Principal Investigator Alan Stern.

[Alan Stern]: New Horizons has been Rock Solid since the day we launched it. Really amazing. Next month we will be 13 years in flight. Everything on the spacecraft is working. We do trending meetings once a year and look at all the engineering data from both the scientific instruments and the subsystems. Our Chief Engineer, Chris, is right there. He'll tell [00:17:00] you that those are pretty boring meetings and in a good way because the spacecraft really isn't aging except in the ways that you know it should, like the RTG produces less power, but it falls right along the half-life curve that's expected. Spacecraft's completely rock-solid and for most of these 13 years we're not in contact with the spacecraft. Either it's hibernating or it's between DSN shifts or whatever. So the kind of operation that's taking place the next couple days from that standpoint is the same as normal operations. The difference is the spacecraft's a lot busier than it normally is. And for a short period of time tomorrow night around midnight, it's going to be closer to Ultima Thule than it's been to anything it's ever been to. For a period of about half an hour, maybe a little less, it's going to be closer than it got to Pluto. It's going to get three times closer and then recede again. So the last time it was this close to anything was on launch day when it was close to the Earth, briefly, and your second question Mat?

[Mat Kaplan]: It was really [00:18:00] just that you're going to be out of touch when it happens, you be simulating it basically. Because you have this faith in not just the spacecraft that your team.

[Alan Stern]: Right. There's also some physics that that's that keeps us out of touch. The speed of light is finite and and so because we've traveling very very far away, 44 astronomical units, it's a six-hour one-way light travel time delay between us and spacecraft that enforces us to be out of touch all the time. Even we want to be in touch it takes six hours to send a message up and it takes six hours to get confirmation back. It's 12 hours. The Kuiper Belt is just a scientific wonderland. It is the location where we have the best preserved samples from the formation era of our solar system. We're 44 astronomical units away from the Sun. And as I said, that's a very large distance. As a result. the sun is pretty faint out there about 2,000 times fainter than it is at high noon here on Earth. So because the sunlight so [00:19:00] feeble, you can't warm things. In fact, the temperatures out there are very close to absolute zero which is wonderful for preserving information. That combined with the fact that Ultima is so small that it can't have a powerful geologic engine like Pluto does or larger planets. Those two factors conspire to tell us to expect that this is the best preserved sample of the origin era of the planets that anyone has ever visited. You know all I ever remember wanting to do was grow up and be a part of space exploration. I was a pretty boring kid, and I didn't go through all those phases of want to be a policeman and a fireman and all these other things. Exploration of space was just getting started when I was a kid. It was all around us in the news and frankly all my friends when I was little I wanted to grow up to be astronauts or a part of space exploration. A lot of them eventually found other things that they ended up doing. I'm somewhere between in the groove and stuck in a rut. And I got to live my [00:20:00] dream in being involved in space exploration. From a personal standpoint, Pluto is a little bit of a dare. It was left undone by The Grand Tour the Voyager project and because I worked on it scientifically I really thought how could we not as a nation that had explored the whole rest of the solar system. How could we leave this one one place unexplored? Particularly when it's a superlative. It's in so many ways. It's the farthest right and it was the last found and in scientific terms it was a whole represent a whole new class of object. So there was a lot of passion in me to want to do this, but the same is true of all the members of the Pluto underground if it hadn't been for that group sticking with it after cancellation after cancellation after cancellation and getting back up off the floor each time, you wouldn't be here today and those people really deserve amazing credit because in the end we made history.

[Mat Kaplan]: Monday December 31st. This was the big day the day New Horizons would zoom [00:21:00] past Ultima Thule. Well strictly speaking that event would happen 33 minutes into the new year on the east coast of the US. NASA TV had received a special dispensation from the agency's Administrator in spite of the government shutdown. Jim bridenstine had come up with funds to cover production of live webcast from APL, but there was essentially no funding for NASA officials to attend the encounter. That didn't stop the man who until recently headed the agency's Planetary Science division. Jim Green, private citizen.

[James Green]: Well, I'm a planetary scientist. I'm here for the excitement. I was delighted to be invited. You know, it's one of those things wild horses couldn't drag me away. But but rather historic making event, which we're all very proud of. This is a fabulous team and other work also hard making this happen. What they have to pull off to be able to fly by something so fast and really not even know where it's at and all the [00:22:00] techniques that they've developed to be able to refine that it's just really been remarkable. Absolutely remarkable.

[Mat Kaplan]: You don't need to comment on this but I think it's a damn shame that the NASA Chief Scientist has to be here on his own dime even though he wouldn't have missed.

[James Green]: Well, it doesn't matter to me whether I'm being paid or not. It's the love of the field. It's the love of what we do as a scientist have had many opportunities in my lifetime to see something and discover something no one else has and that's an aha moment. It's a rush. It's an adrenaline rush. It's you know, my drug of choice is scientific discovery, so to speak and and to be able to share it with everyone, you know, my neighbor's my friends people that have been invited here, people that I haven't seen in awhile to come from the west coast and flown in they're here to on their own. It's wonderful to be part of the crowd sometimes too.

[Mat Kaplan]: Were you here what three and a half years [00:23:00] ago for the Pluto encounter?

[James Green]: Yeah, of course I was and I could show you where I lived around the corner.

[Alan Stern]: This is one of those gifts from NASA and the team that put together this spacecraft that just keeps on giving. Pluto, now this body, may be something beyond this, from a relatively inexpensive Mission.

[James Green]: That's right. It's highly capable. I mean the spacecraft is just, when you think of the computer technology its orders of magnitude more capable than the Voyagers are and and the next wave of stuff that we launch is going to be like that. We're working up to the HAL 9000 Series because indeed that's what we need. We need those higher capable systems and abilities to be able to make observations to be able to interpret those to be able to do things that we can't do ourselves personally sitting on the spacecraft. We have to let our computers do it.

[Mat Kaplan]: Just try to design one that [00:24:00] doesn't become a paranoid schizophrenic.

[James Green]: I have a theory about that. I don't think I don't think it malfunctioned.

[Mat Kaplan]: Oh, you think it made a good logical decision?

[James Green]: Yeah. Well, you have to you have to think about what's happening and the New Horizons is a perfect example. What are we doing? We're launching more and more capable systems out into space. Would extraterrestrials do the same? Did you ever see an alien in the movie? No, you saw its remnant. You saw what it launched and put there to signal. You know, there's an intelligent being there's intelligence at the other end.

[Mat Kaplan]: Jim have a great evening. Have fun and happy New Year.

[James Green]: Happy New Year to you, too.

[Mat Kaplan]: One friend of the mission stood out partly because of his long curly white hair. We recently talked with Brian May's co-author David Eicher about their stunner of a book called <em>Mission Moon 3-D</em>. If you heard that interview, you know that Brian May is a huge fan of stereoscopic imagery. Actually as [00:25:00] owner of the London stereoscopic company he's more than a fan. Brian also holds a PhD in astrophysics. Oh and one or two of you may have heard of his band a group known as Queen. He joined a small group of media reps including me to talk about his years-long involvement with New Horizons and the anthem he had just recorded in honor of the mission.

[Brian May]: Occasional rockstar, yeah, okay. I'm here as part of this mission, I'm not here as a tourist. I'm not here as a celebrity. I'm here to work and I love it and I've been involved with Alan and his team since little before 2015 when the the Jupiter flyby happened. So I'm here to answer your questions if you'd like. Ok I should mention that I made some music. Alan called me about five months ago and said, can I call you on something? So I thought it's gonna be something important he's calling me to see if he can call me. And he said can you make some music for the Ultima [00:26:00] Thule flyby and I thought ah, this is probably going to be hard because I can't think of anything that rhymes with Ultima Thule at this moment. So I had this doubt in my mind, but then I went away and the things started to buzz around in my head and I could hear some music of some kind. I could hear some music of an object plummeting through space faster than anything's ever been launched away from this Earth and I got kind of inspired but I didn't really have the lyric but gradually it dawned on me that this mission is about human curiosity. It's about the need of mankind to go out there and explore and discover what makes the Universe tick. And this has been going on since the dawn of time. So in a sense my song my track, my anthem became about the human spirit endeavoring to discover the universe.

[Mat Kaplan]: If anybody lives at the intersection of art and science, it's you.

[Brian May]: Thank you.

[Mat Kaplan]: Just wondering what are your feelings about [00:27:00] being in both of those worlds the way that you are?

[Brian May]: I could have paid you to ask that question. Thank you. Yeah, yeah, you're right. This is where I like to be and I think really my spirit is kind of anchored in Victorian times because in Victorian times there wasn't the distinction between art and science. Victoria's wonderful husband came to England, the German guy Prince Albert, and he put on an exhibition which was the works of all nations and it was all of the best art and all of the best science in our terms but there was no distinction, you know. So to me, I'm still in that place and I see the best science as very innovative and even instinctive and I see the best music as analytical to some extent even if it's after the event, but to me, it's all very much a similar process in your head. Now I've been reading books lately about the two hemispheres of your brain, which I thought was a myth but turns out it's not and it's [00:28:00] not like one is art and one is science. Not at all. Both halves of your brain appear to be engaged in the same things, but they're just engaged in different ways. So I love to do that. I love to feel this kind of exercising of the brain happening when you go in full pelt on something which is scientific endeavor, but it's an artistic thing and you're bringing out the art in it. So this, this project made music in my head and that's what you're hearing.

[Mat Kaplan]: It was after all New Year's Eve. Must have been a thousand or so mission team members friends and family and members of the media gathered at APL to ring in 2019, followed moments later by the premiere of that tune by Brian May.

[Crowd]: 3... 2... 1... Happy New Year! Happy New Year.

[Alan Stern]: Welcome 2019. Now count down to the next one Brian. Let's just get to what you've worked on what inspired by New Horizons.

[Brian May]: It's my privilege and my pleasure to [00:29:00] introduce to you right now the global the world premiere of this. New theme for New Horizons. Thank you.

[song plays]

[Mat Kaplan]: Copyright considerations will [00:30:00] keep me from playing the entire tune for you, but you can hear it and see the music video on YouTube as Brian May's New Horizons. We've got the link on this week's show page at As the party continued around us I stopped to talk with Heidi Hammel. Heidi is a planetary astronomer who serves as Executive Vice President of AURA, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy. AURA has responsibility for many of our best telescopes including the Hubble. Full disclosure, Heidi is also on the Planetary Society's Board of Directors. Happy New Year, Heidi.

[Heidi Hammel]: Happy New Year.

[Mat Kaplan]: And it's almost an anticlimax compared to what is about to happen here in I don't know something like 10, 15 minutes.

[Heidi Hammel]: Yeah, 10 minutes from now. We're going to celebrate the actual flyby event itself.

[Mat Kaplan]: So I tweeted earlier today that this place is crawling with science stars. You're here as part of that.

[Heidi Hammel]: Well, thank you. Yeah, there's a lot of people here who have been working in [00:31:00] planetary science for a very long time, movers and shakers.

[Mat Kaplan]: Okay, so I know you're a big fan of the outer solar system. I mostly think of you as being thinking of things that aren't quite this far out like icy Neptune, the ice giants, but does this fit into that?

[Heidi Hammel]: Hey, these are worlds in their own right and every world deserves to be celebrated and explored. The Kuiper Belt is a really unique part of our solar system. And especially this kind of Kuiper Belt object, this cold classical object, we think it's a primitive, primordial relic of the early solar system. So it's really very special to us to be able to examine one close-up.

[Mat Kaplan]: How do you feel about the thinking that we are... somebody said you don't realize you're in a golden age until after it's gone, but you know at the society we are seeing all the time, we are in the golden age of planetary science. Do you agree?

[Heidi Hammel]: We have been in a golden age of planetary [00:32:00] science and all of us who grew up in the era of exploration of the Voyagers and Galileo and Cassini and the Mars missions of and all the other wonderful exploration, including New Horizons. We know it's been a golden era and we've been very privileged to have been able to play a part in that.

[Mat Kaplan]: But it doesn't come easy. What's it going to take to keep this going?

[Heidi Hammel]: That's just tough question. You know, it takes a lot of perseverance it takes vision and it takes the ability to think long-term. Some of the things we've been hearing about here as we reminisce about how we got from Pluto to here is that it takes decades. It takes decades and it takes the ability to never take no for an answer and to push and push and push. Because you know, what we're doing is the right thing. We know that exploring is good for our psyches. So it'll it's [00:33:00] not over we're gonna keep on exploring. I know that I know it in my heart.

[Mat Kaplan]: Just one more. I mean you got a fantastic team behind this Mission as you have terrific teams behind every Mission, but how important is the person at the top, in this case the PI Alan Stern?

[Heidi Hammel]: The leader of a mission is always critical to the success of the mission. Alan has been an inspirational leader for the New Horizons Mission and for Pluto exploration and outer solar system exploration for a very long time and I really applaud his ability to bring together a diverse group of people and inspire them to do their very best. That's how we get great missions like New Horizon. So kudos to Alan.

[Mat Kaplan]: Excited about seeing those pixels on screen tomorrow?

[Heidi Hammel]: I'm totally excited about it. I can't wait. It's going to be awesome.

[Mat Kaplan]: And here we go. Thank you Heidi.

[Heidi Hammel]: You're welcome. Happy New Year.

[Mat Kaplan]: Happy New Year. Now we were just moments from the Ultima Thule encounter. But here's the thing, as you've heard, the [00:34:00] spacecraft was way too busy examining this most distant ever object to communicate with Earth. Besides the light travel time was about six hours, but we couldn't let the moment pass without a celebration that was even bigger than the New Year's countdown. Here's Alan Stern.

[Alan Stern]: 10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... Go New Horizons! Go New Horizons! New Horizons is on departure. Go USA! Go NASA! Go New Horizons!

[Mat Kaplan]: Tired but exhilarated most of us headed back to homes and hotels, but not for long. It was only a few hours later on New Year's morning that we were once again at APL [00:35:00] this time to receive the first actual signal from New Horizons that would tell us all had gone.

[CNDH]: MOM, this is CNDH on Pluto-1.

[Alice Bowman]: Go ahead, CNDH.

[CNDH]: CNDH is nominal, our SSR pointers are right where we predicted so...

[Alice Bowman]: Copy that. CNDH is green and we have a good data record Ultima Thule science.

[Autonomy]: MOM, this is Autonomy.

[Alice Bowman]: Go ahead Autonomy.

[Autonomy]: Autonomy is nominal.

[Alice Bowman]: Copy, Autonomy is nominal.

[System Engineer]: System Engineer to MOM. Status is green.

[Alice Bowman]: Copy that, green. We have a healthy spacecraft. We've just accomplished the most distant flyby. We are ready for Ultima Thule [00:36:00] science transmission at 200 UTC today, science to help us understand the origins of our solar system.

[Mat Kaplan]: There was time after that event to talk with a few more people in the auditorium including Texas Congressman John Culberson. The Houston Republican was enjoying the last few hours of his tenure in Congress. He was defeated in November but not before making a name for himself as a leader in support of planetary exploration and science. Congressman, I just interrupted you being thanked by a bunch of scientists New Horizon scientists and others for the leadership that you provided, have provided as a Congressman for planetary science. The passion that you, that you brought to this. [00:37:00] You made a difference to a lot of people in this room.

[John Culberson]: It's been my joy to chair the committee that funds NASA. I wanted to be an astronaut as a kid and if I couldn't be an astronaut I wanted to be in a position where I could make a difference and lift NASA up above and beyond the glory days of Apollo and I believe I've done that in the short time. I've been able to serve as chairman of the subcommittee that funds NASA.

[Mat Kaplan]: So we have heard a parade of wonders, a parade of human accomplishment already this evening. I didn't know how they were going to carry us through so many hours, but it really has been kind of thrilling don't you think?

[John Culberson]: It's extraordinary to have a journey through the archaeological history of the solar system to see the veil lifted from the secrets of the universe, the secrets of creation, the origins of our solar system, the wonder of these new worlds that are even more wonderful and bizarre that anyone could have imagined before we got there and were able to see them when our with our own eyes and that to me is one of the greatest joys of the work that NASA does is the joy of [00:38:00] discovery. Learning what's over the next hill? Where do we come from? What's out there? That's my joy in helping make these dreams of the future come true.

[Mat Kaplan]: And your influence is going to live on for years. We were just talking with some of those scientists about what's ahead for what we now call the ocean words.

[John Culberson]: Yes. I created the ocean world's program and funded it at a level that will enable the new frontiers and discovery class scientists launched their missions and to launch a number of flagship class missions to orbit Europa to land on Europa. The Europa Orbiter and Landers are the only missions it is illegal for NASA not to fly. I made sure of that and make sure there's enough money there to go to Europa, orbit, land on the surface, and taste the ice. That's the only way we will know if there is life in that ocean is to land on the surface and I made sure that will happen because that will electrify the world, electrify the American public, and lift support for NASA. to the level it needs to really achieve [00:39:00] everything that is possible. It's going to take a massive infusion of money, and I recognize it needs to be a... there needs to be a civilization level discovery to electrify the American public to lift NASA funding that level and I'm convinced that will be the discovery of primitive life and another world and the scientific community tells me that is most likely in the oceans of Europa.

[Mat Kaplan]: Thanks again, Congressman.

[John Culberson]: Thank you very much. Mark Buie has a special distinction on the New Horizons team. The astronomer works out of the Southwest Research Institute that Alan Stern and many other team members are part of. Mark, moments ago we celebrated New Horizons passing the object that you had the honor of discovering.

[Marc Buie]: That's an amazing feeling. I've been watching this countdown timer on my computer screen for four and a half years and it hits zero today. Which is a little sad because now we're not looking forward to flying by anymore. This is already happened. On board the [00:40:00] spacecraft all the pictures are now sitting there waiting to make it... to beam back to the Earth and then the real fun begins. That starts tomorrow and it's going to take 20 months just to get all of these treasures back. Really looking forward to tomorrow morning when we get the first signal back from the spacecraft that said it's all good.

[Mat Kaplan]: Also in the audience was SWRI's John Spencer, DeputyProject Scientist for New Horizons. Congratulations John, it's gotta feel pretty great.

[John Spencer]: This feels awesome. I wasn't too worried about us running into any kind of debris because we'd searched the area pretty thoroughly. But the there's always the possibility that something will happen with the spacecraft and it'll have a computer reset or something. We'd lose data. So when I heard that the data recorders were at the exact right location that they taken the exact right amount of data, that was the moment when I said, yes, we've got this. But this afternoon we start getting the data taken after the encounter, we should [00:41:00] have on the ground this afternoon an image that's a hundred pixels across which will completely blow away while we've had up to now. And I still kind of a small image but for an object of a completely different kind that you've never seen any images of before it's going to be amazing.

[Mat Kaplan]: As Alan Stern said, has said many times, we knew less about this object than any place else we've ever been in the solar system.

[John Spencer]: It's true even on approach. We learned hardly anything. We didn't even know its rotation rate. We had only the vaguest idea of its color. We knew its orbit very well and its size and that was about it. So yes, there's going to be so much to learn because we starting from zero.

[Mat Kaplan]: How did it feel to be here in this crowded auditorium with all these fans of this mission that you and others have worked on for so long?

[John Spencer]: Well, it's wonderful because we're in our own little world with our, you know, telecoms of 20 people and we don't get to connect with the outside world in the... in all the nitty gritty planning that we're doing and then suddenly to be [00:42:00] surrounded by people who are really keen on what we're doing have our friends come and and be really enthusiastic about it. It's it's just fabulous. It's been real really quite a party.

[Mat Kaplan]: I wouldn't have wanted to spend New Year's anywhere else. Thank you, John and congrats again.

[John Spencer]: Thank you a Happy New Year to you.

[Mat Kaplan]: I found this small group of people wearing blue shirts unlike anything else that's in this auditorium at APL. So I had to find out what the shirts were and I got more than I thought I would when I heard that this is sort of a support group. I mean, what is your relationship to the mission?

[Jennifer Yach]: Alice Bowman is my sister. My name is Jennifer Yach.

[Mat Kaplan]: And you are MOM's mom, the Mission Operation Manager's mom?

[Lois Mays]: I am. I'm Lois Mays, Alice Bowman's mom.

[Mat Kaplan]: You're not proud or anything. Are you?

[Lois Mays]: No, not at all.

[Mat Kaplan]: Have you been following this mission for a long time along with Alice?

[Lois Mays]: Yes. In fact all of us were here in January [00:43:00] of 2006 and it wasn't a go. So we had to take all our young kids back home, but we watched that one on TV, but we've been here ever since for Pluto and all of it.

[Mat Kaplan]: So right from the launch even though it didn't work out the first time.

[Lois Mays]: Yes. Indeed.

[Mat Kaplan]: You were as well? Are you as much into this is your sister?

[Jennifer Yach]: Oh, yes. I have three children and we were all here, like my mom said, at the launch. I had to drive them all back to Richmond Virginia to get him back in school the next day. Alice has talked at their elementary schools and been involved at their middle schools and I've been supporting her all the way. It's very exciting. I think I was more nervous watching this today than she was maybe.

[Mat Kaplan]: That's got to be an amazing experience for you to be sitting out here. You've known her since she was born and and you since you were born right and there she was on screen. She was the person who told us everything's going well.

[Lois Mays]: That is correct, and you know from an early [00:44:00] age I knew she was going to do something outstanding and great. Didn't know what it was going to be, but she surpassed anything I could have thought of.

[Mat Kaplan]: She a good big sister?

[Jennifer Yach]: Yes, she is. I had to watch a lot of Star Trek and all those things but I did even though we fought over who got to sit where on the sofa but it was all good.

[Mat Kaplan]: Congratulations to her, of course, but also to you for being able to share this and in the special way that you get to as family.

[Lois Mays]: Thank you so much. It's great.

[Jennifer Yach]: It was a proud day for us.

[Mat Kaplan]: And it was that afternoon, just as John Spencer said, that the first close encounter data arrived. That was reason enough for another NASA TV broadcast from APL.

[Alan Stern]: I don't know about all of you, but I'm really liking this 2019 think so far. We're here to tell you that last night overnight the United States spacecraft New Horizons conducted the farthest exploration in the [00:45:00] history of humankind and did so spectacularly. Thousands of operations on board the spacecraft had to work correctly in order for us to be able to tell you this and now we know that it all did. And so let me turn it over to our mission operations boss, Alice Bowman, say a little bit more about that.

[Alice Bowman]: Thanks Alan. We had a great support with Madrid station, Deep Space Network 70-meter. You saw that we locked up to telemetry on the spacecraft. Everything looks great. And we are definitely looking forward to getting down the science data so all of our scientists and the world can see what the outer solar system the origins of our solar system have to hold for us. What surprises.

[Alan Stern]: As we speak right now signals from the spacecraft are coming back across the solar system at the speed of light. They're currently about halfway back to Earth and overnight tonight the science team will be analyzing the first high-resolution [00:46:00] images which we'll be able to show you tomorrow. Now the image that I'm about to show you is the best image of Ultima that we got pre flyby and it's okay to laugh. But it's better than the one we had yesterday. There it is. Meet Ultima.

[Hal Weaver]: We actually have a formal science team meeting as Alan said starting on the 15th. And you know after everybody has regrouped and been at their home institutions looking at the. We'll come back and trade stories about what we found. Everybody's going to be looking intensively. January is going to be extremely intensive intensive month. It just keeps getting better and better. I mean, this is the science team.

[Alice Bowman]: I think what is striking home with me is that. We can build a spacecraft on Earth and we send it out billions of miles away from Earth and it sends us back all this wonderful data that we get to look at and learn more about our world our solar system, long after that power is so much less that we can't turn around and communicate to Earth that will keep going on and on and that's a bit of all of us on that spacecraft that will just continue after were long gone here on Earth.

[Chris Hersman]: Yeah. I just wanted to say it's an amazing thing when a nation posts together to collect the funds to do this challenging accomplishment and then the team pulls together sleepless nights double-checking calculations. We have two teams from the [00:48:00] East coast and the West Coast everybody working together and I'm just thankful to be a part of it and I'm thankful that we can share all this with all of you as well.

[Alan Stern]: And I just want to close I'm going to Echo a little bit of what Chris said. I want to say thank you. Thank you to the entire New Horizons team. Thank you to APL and SWIR and all of our other partners. Thank you to NASA for selecting our team to go and do this mission to the farthest reaches of the solar system, and frankly thank you the United States for being the kind of country that it is that makes history this way in front of the whole world. Thank you.

[Mat Kaplan]: But wait, there's more. I had to catch my flight out of Baltimore on the afternoon of Wednesday, January 2nd. It meant cutting it close, but I could not leave APL before the world was presented the first really decent image of Ultima Thule [00:49:00] here are portions of that NASA TV webcast.

[NASA TV]: Good afternoon. Welcome to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland where a new world is being revealed before our very eyes. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is giving us our first close-up look at the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule.

[Alan Stern]: And everything that we're going to tell you is just the tip of the iceberg. We have far less than 1% of the data that's stored aboard the solid-state recorders on New Horizons already down on the ground. Here's where we were just a couple days ago on December 31st, 2018. This was humanity's best image of Ultima Thule made by New Horizons at a range of about half a [00:50:00] million kilometres out. Well, that image is so 2018. Meet Ultima Thule. Just like with Pluto we could not be happier. What you're seeing is the first contact binary ever explored by spacecraft. It's two completely separate objects that are now joined together and you and then tomorrow we're going to show you even more because stereos come into the ground composition informations coming to the ground. We're looking for the atmosphere and that data is just landed so we'll have a lot more to tell you tomorrow as well. But let me say that bowling pin is gone. It's a snowman if it's anything at all. And you know, we have to start thinking about some provisional names. And particularly we need names right up front for the two lobes so that we can refer to them [00:51:00] individually. Now being scientists were not all that creative with words. So we've decided to do is name one lobe Ultima and the other Thule. The big one is obviously Ultima. It's pretty easy to remember. How's that? Go New Horizons. Go NASA.

[Mat Kaplan]: The encounter is over. New Horizons is headed further and further from the warmth of our Sun. We won't know for at least months if it will visit yet another Kuiper Belt object, one that it may itself find. The data gathered during the Ultima flyby will flow back to the Deep Space Network for the next year and a half, spooling slowly, but surely from the spacecrafts onboard recorders. This Mission already a grand success for its unveiling of Pluto will continue to make [00:52:00] history. All of us at the Planetary Society thank and congratulate the hundreds of people who made it possible. And I thank the JHU Applied Physics Lab for hosting the greatest New Year's Eve celebration ever.

Time to close that grand celebration of planetary science and planetary exploration with Bruce Betts the Chief Scientist for the Planetary Society and he is back to tell us what's up with the night sky. I suppose Ultima Thule, but not that we're going to be seeing it with the naked eye. Welcome.

[Bruce Betts]: If you squint really hard.

[Mat Kaplan]: And say I wish I could three times and click your heels. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome. What can we see in the night sky?

[Bruce Betts]: We have a total lunar eclipse coming up on the night of the 20th or 21st depending on your time zone. The maximum total lunar eclipse will be at 5:12 UT on the 21st. That's [00:53:00] 21:12 Pacific Standard Time on the 20th and it'll be visible across most of North America, South America, the Eastern Pacific, the Western Atlantic, Western Europe, and Western Africa. And if that wasn't enough for you, partial lunar eclipse will be visible in other parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia, so it should be very very cool. Let's see. We also have another really cool conjunction that's going to happen in the pre-dawn sky. So we've got Jupiter is currently below super bright Venus in the pre-dawn East but they snuggle up next to each other on January 22nd, and then Jupiter takes the lead and heads up higher in the sky after that.

[Mat Kaplan]: Conjunction Junction.

[Bruce Betts]: What's your function? All right onto this week in space history. 2005 the Huygens probe successfully landed, went through the atmosphere, took measurements, and landed on Titan. And in 2008 [00:54:00] messenger completed its first fly by Mercury finally showing us the side of mercury that we hadn't seen before up close and personal.

[Mat Kaplan]: It's another one of those Applied Physics Lab missions, Messenger was.

[Bruce Betts]: It was indeed. All right, we move on to Random Space Fact.

[Mat Kaplan]: And of course I could have recorded like 10 celebrity random space fact intros had I had my wits about me but I never knew when I'm on location.

[Bruce Betts]: So you did you want to impersonate them?

[Mat Kaplan]: I did get Andy Chaikin impersonating Carl Sagan, but I didn't include it in the show. So we'll get him to do that when we talked to him about his new book sometime soon.

[Bruce Betts]: Well maybe we can get you impersonating Andy impersonating Carl.

[Mat Kaplan]: [laughing] Wouldn't that be entertaining? Just hold your breath everybody.

[Bruce Betts]: Maybe not. All right, so I'm guessing you've been talking about 2014 MU69 a little bit in the show.

[Mat Kaplan]: You think?

[Bruce Betts]: And you may have mentioned it is the first [00:55:00] object to be targeted as the, and here's where I draw a distinction, the primary target for a flyby that was discovered after the visiting spacecraft was launched. And I point out the distinction because there were moons of other bodies that have been studied during flybys that were actually discovered after spacecraft launched, but this is the first place which was actually the target of where they were going that they didn't even know it existed until several years after launch.

[Mat Kaplan]: That is very interesting that was implied, but not overtly stated by anybody until you so, thank you.

[Bruce Betts]: I am overt. Now we move on to the trivia contest and I asked you in their current orbits which object gets farther from the Sun at some point in its orbit: Pluto or 2014 MU69? One of the rare binary answer questions. Don't know what that meant. I meant there are two answers to choose from but I'm not sure I said that well, how do we do, Mat?

[Mat Kaplan]: We did [00:56:00] very well particularly for a holiday period like this and so all these came in just about the time that data was coming back from New Horizons. Steven Donaldson in Hagerstown, Maryland, long time listener I think, first time winner. He said it was Pluto much to some people surprises Pluto's orbit takes it past 2014 MU69.

[Bruce Betts]: Yes, indeedy-do Pluto's got quite the elliptical orbit and goes out significantly farther than 2014 MU69, but when the encounters happened for New Horizons Pluto is of course much closer to the Sun.

[Mat Kaplan]: Hey, congratulations, Steven. You are going to get that set of five Kick Asteroid stickers from the Planetary Society Chop Shop store at and a 200 point astronomy account. Joseph Murray in Hoboken, New Jersey. [00:57:00] However, Ultima Thule is the ultimate winner in the other two distance categories: perihelion of apparently 42.3 versus Pluto's 29.7 AU, astronomical units, and a semi-major axis of 44, basically 44 and a half AU versus little bit less than 40 AU. So I guess, you know, if you average it out Ultima Thule is still the winner in terms of distance from us.

[Bruce Betts]: I suppose it depends on how you look at it. Well, we're looking at it. Steve Wynell of Antelope, California. Keep in mind that he's a Californian. He simply says, wow far out man. We got that from a few other people as well. We also got this from David Douthat. David Douthat in Charlestown, West Virginia. It's a little diddy. It's basically a limerick, not a full-fledged poetic effort as we get from our Poet Laureate, [00:58:00] but I was entertained. Here we go. Bruce asked us to calculate truly whether Pluto our Ultima Thule goes further out from the Sun. Well Pluto's the one, since its orbit is much more unruly. I thought you'd like that one.

[Bruce Betts]: I did, I did.

[Mat Kaplan]: We got one more that we should mention and it is not about this Mission, but about the one that we talked about on last week's show and our main segment OSIRIS-REx at Bennu and are you one of those Bruce who has been sort of using air quotes whenever you talk about OSIRIS-REx "orbiting"—I'm doing air quotes right now—around Bennu?

[Bruce Betts]: I'm imagining it. No, I actually... but I was curious and fascinated to learn the the true answer. It's it's awfully hard to orbit such a tiny body, but apparently what'd we learn, Mat?

[Mat Kaplan]: We learned from your Rune Gerard. He's on the OSIRIS-REx navigation [00:59:00] team for the company Kinetics, which also did a lot of the navigation, is doing it, for New Horizons. He says it is actually an orbit. There's no need for the air quotes. It's one orbit takes about get this 61 hours in spite of the fact that OSIRIS-REx never gets more than about two kilometers from Bennu. So that caught a lot of us by surprise. I bet it caught a lot of people on the mission by surprise. It really is orbiting that little rock.

[Bruce Betts]: Yeah, it's quite clever. He also talks about how they they choose a plane that I would phrase it is least affected by solar radiation pressure, you know things that push solar sails and spacecraft in low gravity orbits.

[Mat Kaplan]: Got to take all that into account. I guess when it's when this kind of object is what you're orbiting. I guess with that, we're ready for a new one.

[Bruce Betts]: So we talked about there's a total lunar eclipse. When is the next total lunar eclipse? Total lunar [01:00:00] eclipse, as seen from the Earth surface, so people can't get squirrely and talk about seeing it from you know other places. Go to

[Mat Kaplan]: You have until Wednesday January 16th of this new year at 8 a.m. Pacific time to get us the answer and we're going to give you a set of those five Kick Asteroid stickers from that Kick Asteroid campaign that Bruce, that Bruce Betts worked with Chop Shop to come up with these. Also a 200-point astronomy account from that nonprofit network of telescopes you can use to observe stuff throughout the cosmos. And this is back, Robert Kurson's great book about Apollo 8, <em>Rocket Men</em> that we talked to Robert Kurson about not long ago on this show just before the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 Moon encounter, lunar encounter. We have the book to give away still because the previous winner. He heard our [01:01:00] conversation about it liked it so much. He went out and bought the book and so he wants to make it available to somebody else. So you just might get yourself a copy of <em>Rocket Men</em> published by Random House. And and that's it. We're done.

[Bruce Betts]: All right, everybody go out there. Look up the night sky and think about your favorite leaf shape. Thank you and good night. You ever thought about that, Mat?

[Mat Kaplan]: No, I thought about leaf shapes. But you know what? I picked up a little bit of the pine droppings from our Christmas tree and put them in my pocket this morning as I was taking the tree out. So I'm going to go with that. It's not even a leaf.It's a needle.

[Bruce Betts]: It's a dropping, apparently.

[Mat Kaplan]: That's Bruce Betts, the Chief Scientist for the Planetary Society dropping facts and leaves and other stuff for us every week here on What's Up. Planetary Radio is produced by the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California and is made possible by its farsighted members. MaryLiz Bender is our associate [01:02:00] producer. Josh Doyle composed our theme which was arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser. I'm Mat Kaplan. Ad Astra.

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