Celebrate Space on NYE19

Since I’ve been on vacation for the holidays, I’ve finally had a chance to finish a new Paper Planet of Pluto. Just in time for the NYE flyby of the Kuiper Belt Object (or KBO) informally named Ultima Thule! I love the name Ultima Thule [see edit below regarding the naming debate] – it means beyond the known world or beyond the map. It was a fictional land, or sometimes fictional character, drawn onto the edges of medieval maps of the world. It’s the perfect concept for exploring a new object at the very edge of the solar system. The Voyager spacecrafts are farther away from Earth right now than New Horizons, but Ultima Thule will still be the farthest world we have ever explored. As I type this, data has started coming in and the science team is working round the clock to prepare for tonight’s flyby. I’m SO excited about seeing it up close- this is a really unprecedented event and thankfully we happen to be alive during a sort of golden age of discovery and space exploration. Getting to see these worlds for the very first time is overwhelming.

Speaking of, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has also today just entered orbit around the asteroid Bennu, setting the records for both smallest object orbited (it’s ~ a half mile across) and closest orbit:

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An interesting contrast between these two momentous encounters, happening on the same day:

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I just want to say how proud and humbled I am to call myself a part of the OSIRIS-REx team. I was not one of the science team members on the original mission proposal, so I’ve only been with the team for about a year. So far the experience has been incredible- Bennu is an amazing little world that I can’t wait to explore over the next few years. I was at HQ at the beginning of this month doing a preliminary mapping survey of the surface with my working group. We got our first downlink of fairly high resolution (30 cm/px) images, and it was was our job to look at the for the first time and explore the surface and its features. Getting to see something that no one else has ever seen before is a really cool feeling, the excitement of discovery, first thoughts on its geology and what science is happening on the surface- the whole thing was kind of overwhelming. Everyone on the team is wonderful, and the dynamic since we arrived has been both exciting and collaborative. I’ve never worked on a team like this before, it’s a very tight knit (but welcoming) group and I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone better. Congrats on this amazing achievement to the whole OSIRIS-REx team, and especially to those working through this holiday to bring us to orbit safely. Cheers to you!


Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona


EDIT: The NH flyby and subsequent press releases were both inspiring and thought-provoking. Some of you paying attention may have noticed the debate surface about the name Ultima Thule. Unfortunately, at some point in the past the nazi groups have used the name for their own pruposes, giving it a harmful and uninclusive connotation to many people. I believe there is an argument to be made that any time we let go of names or ideas that hate groups have decided to co-opt, it represents a true loss to human culture. But that is not a debate for here, and ultimately, we need to prioritize not harming others first. Therefore until it receives an official new name, I will return to calling it MU69.