Laurel, Jan 2 (AP/UNB) -NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has survived humanity's most distant exploration of another world.
Ten hours after the middle-of-the-night encounter 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away, flight controllers in Laurel, Maryland, received word from the spacecraft late Tuesday morning. Cheers erupted at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, home to Mission Control.
An anxious spill-over crowd in a nearby auditorium joined in the loud celebration.
New Horizons zoomed past the small celestial object known as Ultima Thule 3 ½ years after its spectacular brush with Pluto. Scientists say it will take nearly two years for New Horizons to beam back all its observations of Ultima Thule, a full billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto. At that distance, it takes six hours for the radio signals to reach Earth.
A NASA spacecraft opens the new year at the most distant world ever explored, a billion miles beyond Pluto.
Flight controllers say everything looked good for New Horizons' flyby of the tiny, icy object at 12:33 a.m. Tuesday, 3 ½ years after its encounter with Pluto. Confirmation won't come for hours, though, given the vast distance. The mysterious target nicknamed Ultima Thule (TOO-lee) is 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) from Earth.
Scientists want New Horizons observing Ultima Thule, not phoning home. So they won't know until late morning whether the spacecraft survived.
With New Horizons on autopilot, Mission Control at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, was empty. Instead, team members and their guests gathered nearby for back-to-back countdowns at midnight and again 33 minutes later.
Queen guitarist Brian May, who also happens to be an astrophysicist, joined the team at Johns Hopkins for a midnight premiere of the song he wrote for the big event.
Laurel, Jan 1 (AP/UNB) — A NASA spacecraft has gone into orbit around an ancient asteroid, setting a pair of records.
The Osiris-Rex spacecraft entered orbit Monday around the asteroid Bennu, 70 million miles (110 million kilometers) from Earth. It's the smallest celestial body ever to be orbited by a spacecraft. Bennu is just 1,600 feet (500 meters) across.
The spacecraft's laps are barely a mile (1.6 kilometers) above the asteroid's surface, another record.
Osiris-Rex arrived at Bennu in early December and flew in formation with it until the latest maneuver. The goal is to grab gravel samples in 2020 for return to Earth in 2023.
The New Year's Eve milestone occurred just hours before another NASA explorer, New Horizons, was set to fly past an icy space rock beyond Pluto.
Cape Canaveral, Dec 21 (AP/UNB) — NASA's new Mars lander has placed a quake monitor on the planet's dusty red surface, just a few weeks after its arrival.
Mars InSight 's robotic arm removed the seismometer from the spacecraft deck and set it on the ground Wednesday to monitor Mars quakes.
Project manager Tom Hoffman called the milestone "an awesome Christmas present."
It's the first time a robotic arm has lowered an experiment onto the Martian surface. The ground is slightly tilted, and so flight controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, still need to make the seismometer level.
The French dome-shaped seismometer is a little over 5 feet (1.6 meters) in front of the stationary lander, about as far as the arm can reach.
Next month, InSight's arm will put a wind cover over the seismometer and set down another experiment. The heat probe, dubbed the mole, will burrow up to 16 feet (5 meters) into Mars to measure internal temperatures.
"Seismometer deployment is as important as landing InSight on Mars," JPL's Bruce Banerdt, lead scientist, said in a statement. It's needed to "complete about three-quarters of our science objectives."
Banerdt plans to open a bottle of Champagne once seismic measurements start rolling in.
InSight landed on Mars on Nov. 26.
Moscow, Dec 21 (Xinhua/UNB) -- A military satellite was successfully launched atop the Proton-M carrier rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome on Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
"On December 21, at 03:20 a.m. Moscow time (0020 GMT), the successful launch of the heavy class Proton-M rocket with a satellite for the Russian Defense Ministry from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan took place," the ministry said in a statement.
All pre-launch procedures and the blastoff proceeded normally, it said.
According to the ministry, the upper stage of the Proton-M rocket, comprising the Briz-M booster and the satellite, separated as scheduled. Putting the spacecraft into the designated orbit will take several hours, it said.
Cape Canaveral, Dec 18 (AP/UNB) — Astronomers have spotted the farthest known object in our solar system — and they've nicknamed the pink cosmic body "Farout."
The International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center announced the discovery Monday.
"Farout" is about 120 astronomical units away — that's 120 times the distance between Earth and the sun, or 11 billion miles. The previous record-holder was the dwarf planet Eris at 96 astronomical units. Pluto, by comparison, is 34 astronomical units away.
The Carnegie Institution's Scott Sheppard said the object is so far away and moving so slowly it will take a few years to determine its orbit. At that distance, it could take more than 1,000 years to orbit the sun.
Sheppard and his team spied the dwarf planet in November using a telescope in Hawaii. Their finding was confirmed by a telescope in Chile.
"I actually uttered "farout" when I first found this object, because I immediately noticed from its slow movement that it must be far out there," Sheppard wrote in an email. "It is the slowest moving object I have ever seen and is really out there."
It is an estimated 310 miles (500 kilometers) across and believed to be round. Its pink shade indicates an ice-rich object. Little else is known.
The discovery came about as the astronomers were searching for the hypothetical Planet X, a massive planet believed by some to be orbiting the sun from vast distances, well beyond Pluto.