New Year, New Horizons

The New Year is a good time to look up and think about the wonderful and astonishing things we can do if we put our minds to it. And 2019 is off to a big start as far as space exploration goes! Planetarium Manager Marc Taylor recently spoke with FiosNews1 about two exciting celestial developments. Watch the interview here.

Earlier this month, the New Horizons robotic spacecraft flew by an object we didn’t know existed when the spacecraft was launched twelve years ago. The small, cold, and comet-like object, designated MU 69 and provisionally named Ultima Thule, is the farthest object we have visited in our Solar System. New Horizons completed its primary mission—a flyby of Pluto—in 2015, but navigators hoped that it could visit other objects out in the deep freeze beyond Neptune. They searched near the spacecraft’s flight path looking for potential targets. After two years of painstaking maneuvering, they were able to get a closeup image of Ultima Thule, formed from two objects that slowly merged together. Due primarily to the 3.5-billion mile distance between New Horizons and Earth, it will take nearly two years to transmit all the information it gathered about Ultima Thule.

Much closer to home, the Chinese Chang’e-4 spacecraft has landed on the far side of the moon—a first! The basin where it landed will hopefully give selenologists (scientists who study the moon) access to the moon’s mantle. The spacecraft is also carrying the only biology experiment ever conducted in 1/6th of the earth’s gravity, an experiment that will look at the behavior of living things like potato seeds and silkworm eggs. Queqiao, a satellite orbiting Earth beyond the Moon’s orbit but keeping pace with it, will act as a relay between Chang’e-4 and Earth.

Learn more about the moon and the history of space photography in our upcoming exhibition A Century of Lunar Photography and Beyond, opening February 8.