Friday, April 19

Why NASA chose Senegal to observe a frozen world beyond Pluto

On a night in August, an object called 2014 MU69 passed in front of a star and blocked its light. This phenomenon, called a stellar occultation, lasted just a second and was visible only in certain regions in Africa (more exactly in Senegal, Mali and Algeria) and in South America in Colombia.MU69 is an icy object of the Kuiper Belt, (informally named Ultima Thule) which was discovered in June 2014 with the Hubble Space Telescope.NASA is pursuing this object to learn more about the origins of our solar system.

Senegal was chosen to observe this occultation, because of its political stability, and the existence of a community of amateur astronomers and scientists.The choice of Senegal was made despite the challenging climatic conditions in August (rainy season), which offered a probability of success of only 50%.The observations organized by NASA in collaboration with Senegal will help with precious data for the preparation of the New Horizon spacecraft’s flyby of MU69, which will take place on the 1st of January 2019. It will help to confirm its shape, speed and position.This information is critical to make a successful approach of a small object at a distance a billion miles away from us. Continue reading