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Emily LakdawallaJanuary 15, 2019

A few new images of MU69

New Horizons is back in action after going quiet for a period of solar conjunction following the 1 January flyby of 2014 MU69 (informally nicknamed "Ultima Thule"). The spacecraft is returning new data, as exemplified by these images, shared this morning in a tweet by principal investigator Alan Stern. The pictures were taken before closest approach and don't add anything much in the way of news about the world, but: new images, woohoo!!!

Optical navigation images from New Horizons' approach to 2014 MU69


Optical navigation images from New Horizons' approach to 2014 MU69
Four images taken on 31 December 2018 document the rotation and increasing apparent size of 2014 MU69 (informally nicknamed "Ultima Thule") to New Horizons. The top row shows the images as returned from the spacecraft. In the bottom row, the images have been "deconvolved," processed to correct for the known properties of the camera optics to reveal more detail. In all the images, the little world's binary shape, bright neck region, and mottled surface are clearly visible.

A few hours later, the mission formally released an approach animation showing about half a rotation of 2014 MU69. I'm laughing about the fact that MU69's pole pointed nearly directly at New Horizons, giving it a near side and a far side. The far side of this little world will be forever mysterious to us.

Approaching 2014 MU69


Approaching 2014 MU69
As New Horizons approached 2014 MU69 between 31 December 2018 at 20:00 UT and 1 January 2019 at 05:01 (UT), it captured a set of images to observe the little world's rotation. This movie includes 15 such images (as many as had been downlinked by 15 January) and covers about half a rotation as New Horizons closed from a distance of 500,000 to only 28,000 kilometers. Over that range, the image scale decreased from 2.5 kilometers per pixel to 140 meters per pixel.

The images should shortly be available on the New Horizons raw images website; when they are, I'll add them in to the montage below and update this post.

Raw images of the New Horizons MU69 encounter

NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI / Emily Lakdawalla

Raw images of the New Horizons MU69 encounter
The New Horizons team is sharing its data from the MU69 encounter relatively quickly after acquisition on the APL website. This is a montage of representative raw images, and is up-to-date as of 3 January 2019. Over time, as New Horizons returns more data, the sequence will be filled in.

Better-quality, high-resolution images of 2014 MU69 should be available in late February, according to Stern.

Read more: trans-neptunian objects, New Horizons, pretty pictures, 486958 Arrokoth (2014 MU69)

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Emily Lakdawalla

Solar System Specialist for The Planetary Society
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