Happy New Year from Ultima Thule

On Jan. 1, 2019, NASA’s New Horizons space probe will pass by Ultima Thule.  Ultima Thule may sound like a robot from the Transformers movies, but in actuality, it is a Kuiper Belt asteroid orbiting the sun at a distance of four billion miles.  What makes Ultima Thule so special is that it is the second member of the Kuiper Belt (the solar system’s second asteroid belt) to be visited by the New Horizons space probe.  The first was the dwarf planet Pluto.

New Horizons was launched toward Pluto on Jan. 19, 2006.  The space probe was originally aimed toward Jupiter.  While passing Jupiter, NASA performed a complicated maneuver known as a sling shot to increase the probe’s speed and set it on a course toward Pluto.

When New Horizons passed by Pluto in July of 2015, it sent back pictures showing Pluto as an object with a fractured crust, several moons and a thin atmosphere.  Many of these objects were a surprise to astronomers.  Perhaps the biggest surprise was a land feature that looked like a giant heart on Pluto.  To view images from Pluto, please go to https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/images/index.html.

Shortly after passing Pluto, the New Horizons probe’s path was altered so that it would fly on to Ultima Thule.  On Jan. 1, 2019, New Horizons will fly by Ultima Thule at a distance of 2,200 miles (3,500 km).  This pass by will be the most distant planetary flyby ever attempted.

What will New Horizons see when it gets to Ultima Thule.  To start with, it will see a double asteroid measuring about 18 miles across.  At this time, NASA isn’t sure if the probe will image two separate bodies orbiting very close together (a binary system) or two roundish bodies touching each other (a contact binary). Only time will tell.

For more information about the New Horizons space probe, go to http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/Mission/The-New-Horizons-Mission.php.

For more information on the Ultima Thule fly by, go to http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/Ultima/Ultima-Thule.php.

 

THE NIGHT SKY OVER AROOSTOOK COUNTY

 

All of the times and events listed below are from www.calsky.com.  You may register at this site and load your location (anywhere in the world) to be able to get event information and times.  The University of Maine at Presque Isle is located at 68d00m7.8s west longitude and 46d40m45.6s north latitude.

 

The International Space Station is visible as follows:

Evenings – Nov. 23 to Dec. 15.

Mornings – Dec. 22 to Jan. 14.

Evening – Jan. 22 to Feb. 12.

 

To get a free sky chart, go to www.skymaps.com.

 

Sun and Planet Visibility

12/20/2018

07:12 Sunrise.

15:46 Sunset.

05:30 – 07:00 Mercury.

03:18 – 07:12 Venus.

16:24 – 22:54 Mars.

05:42 – 07:00 Jupiter.

16:24 – 22:54 Saturn.

 

01/10/2019

07:14 Sunrise.

156:04 Sunset.

06:42 – 07:00 Mercury.

03:18 – 07:12 Venus.

16:36 – 22:48 Mars.

04:42 – 07:00 Jupiter.

Not visible Saturn.

 

12/13 17:00 – 03:12 Comet Wirtanen visible, 4.6 mag.

12/14 02:00 Geminid Meteor Shower – 48 meteors per hour.

12/14 05:00 Geminid Meteor Shower Maximum – 50 meteors per hour.

12/14 22:18 Moon 3.5 degrees from Mars.

12/14 17:00 – 03:54 Comet Wirtanen visible, 4.6 mg.

12/15 17:00 – 03:54 Comet 46P/Wirtanen at its brightest 4.6 mag.

12/15 02:00 Geminid Meteor Shower – 10.7 meteors per hour.

12/15 06:30 Mercury at greatest western elongation (21.3 degrees), visible in the morning sky.

12/15 06:49 First Quarter Moon.

12/15 17:00 – 03:54 Comet Wirtanen visible, 4.6 mag.

12/16 08:06 Comet 46P/Wirtanen closest to the Earth (7,157.597 miles, 11,519,036 km).

12/16 17:00 – 04:18 Comet Wirtanen visible, 4.6 mag.

12/17 17:00 – 04:42 Comet Wirtanen visible, 4.7 mag.

12/18 17:00 – 05:01 Comet Wirtanen visible, 4.7 mag.

12/19 17:00 – 05:30 Comet Wirtanen visible, 4.8 mag.

12/20 17:00 – 05:54 Comet Wirtanen visible, 4.8 mag.

12/21 14:53 Mercury 0.9 degrees from Jupiter.

12/21 17:00 – 06:00 Comet Wirtanen visible, 4.9 mag.

12/22 12:48 Full Moon.

12/22 17:00 – 06:00 Comet Wirtanen visible, 5.0 mag.

12/23 17:00 – 06:00 Comet Wirtanen visible, 5.1 mag.

12/24 04:56 Moon at Perigee – closest to the Earth (224,344 miles, 361,047 km).

12/24 17:00 – 06:00 Comet Wirtanen visible, 5.2 mag.

12/25 17:24 – 05:42 Comet Wirtanen visible, 5.3 mag.

12/26 11:42 Venus at Perihelion – closest to the sun (66,888,748, miles, 107,486,070 km).

12/26 17:24 – 05:42 Comet Wirtanen visible, 5.4 mag.

12/27 17:24 – 05:42 Comet Wirtanen visible, 5.5 mag.

12/28 17:24 – 05:42 Comet Wirtanen visible, 5.7 mag.

12/29 04:34 Last Quarter Moon.

12/29 06:04 ISS passes 0.02 degrees from Alpha Gemini (Caster).

12/29 17:24 – 05:42 Comet Wirtanen visible, 5.8 mag.

12/30 17:24 – 05:42 Comet Wirtanen visible, 5.9 mag.

12/31 17:24 – 05:42 Comet Wirtanen visible, 6.0 mag.

01/01 06:40 ISS passes 0.2 degrees from Alpha Cygnus (Deneb).

01/01 07:18 Moon 4.7 degrees from Venus.

01/01 17:30 – 05:42 Comet Wirtanen visible, 6.2 mag.

01/02 01:00 Saturn 0.5 degrees from the sun – conjunction.

01/02 07:16 Latest sunrise of the year.

01/02 17:30 – 05:42 Comet Wirtanen visible, 6.3 mag.

01/03 Earth at perihelion – closest to the sun (91,403,446 miles, 140,099,586 km).

01/03 Moon 2.9 degrees from Jupiter.

01/03 17:30 – 05:42 Comet Wirtanen visible, 6.4 mag.

01/03 06:00 Quadrantid meteor shower – 5.4 meteor/hour.

01/04 06:00 Quadrantid meteor shower – 14.8 meteor/hour.

01/04 07:06 Moon 3.0 degrees from Mercury.

01/04 17:30 – 05:42 Comet Wirtanen visible, 6.5 mag.

01/05 14:30 Venus at half phase.

01/05 17:30 – 05:42 Comet Wirtanen visible, 6.7 mag.

01/05 20:28 New Moon.

01/05 23:54 Venus at greatest western elongation (47 degrees), morning sky.

01/06 05:31 ISS passes 1.1 degrees from Alpha Lyra (Vega).

01/06 17:30 – 05:42 Comet Wirtanen visible, 6.8 mag.

01/08 23:39 Moon at apogee – farthest from the Earth (252,364 miles 406,140 km).

01/09 06:06 ISS passes 0.4 degrees from Alpha Virgo (Spica).

01/12 03:24 Mercury at aphelion – farthest from the sun (43,385,475 miles, 69,817,326 km).

01/13 08:31 Mercury 1.7 degrees from Saturn.

01/14 01:45 First Quarter Moon.

01/20 22:33 Partial lunar eclipse begins.

01/20 23:40 Lunar eclipse totality begins

01/21 00:12 Lunar eclipse greatest point.

01/21 00:16 Full Moon.

01/21 00:43 Totality ends.

01/21 01:51 Partial lunar eclipse ends.

01/21 15:06 Moon at Perigee – closest to the Earth (222,039 miles, 357,337 km).

01/22 07:26 Venus 2.4 degrees from Jupiter.

01/24 17:40 ISS passes 0.1 degrees from Alpha Orion (Betelgeuse).