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Tiny Moon May Orbit Distant Object That NASA’s New Horizons Probe Will Visit

Ultimately their efforts enabled Dr. Buie to piece collectively hints of MU69’s form — not round however maybe elongated like a potato or two separate objects in shut orbit round one another.

However the story nonetheless was not fairly proper.

Throughout an try in July to view an occultation from NASA’s Sofia observatory, a modified 747 jet that carries a 100-inch telescope, the astronomers didn’t see something definitive, however there was a suggestive blip. Maybe Sofia’s path simply grazed the shadow.

However no matter Sofia noticed was not fairly in the identical place as the place MU69 turned out to be throughout profitable observations in Argentina per week later. Even within the profitable observations, MU69 was barely off from the anticipated location.

That may have been a consequence of uncertainties within the positions of the background stars. When Dr. Buie acquired an replace of the star catalog — a compendium of Milky Approach stars produced by a European House Company mission referred to as Gaia — he reran his calculations.

The discrepancy was even bigger, too massive for him to reconcile. Then he realized that Sofia might have detected a second object: a moon, which might clarify the discrepancies.

That may very well be the primary of the surprises to return.

If there have been only one moon, mentioned S. Alan Stern, the principal investigator for New Horizons, “then it’s form of a needle in a haystack, and it could be unlikely that Sofia would simply occur to journey over it. So this is likely to be the harbinger. It is likely to be a touch there’s really a swarm of satellites round MU69.”

The presence of a moon would additionally add problems; its gravitational pull would trigger MU69 to wobble, and the mission managers should alter the observations to verify the devices are pointed in the fitting course. However that may all need to be carried out within the days simply earlier than the flyby.

“That’s going to make the previous couple of days of 2018 very thrilling,” mentioned John Spencer, the mission’s deputy mission scientist.

MU69 will cross in entrance of a star yet another time, in August subsequent yr, permitting the New Horizons workforce one final likelihood earlier than the flyby to catch a glimpse of the thing and what may very well be its moon.

Proceed studying the principle story

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