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Emily LakdawallaJanuary 1, 2019

Happy New Year! The New Horizons flyby was successful!

Data recorders full after 2014 MU69 flyby

New Horizons has "phoned home" as expected, 4 hours after its closest approach to 2014 MU69. Its brief transmission contained no science data, but gave the scientists welcome news: the spacecraft data recorders were exactly as full as expected, and the spacecraft systems all perfectly healthy. We still won't know until science data transmission begins this afternoon if the pointing of the spacecraft was on target, but all signs are good. New Horizons has successfully pulled off the most distant flyby ever.

They released one more image today, the last one returned before the encounter. It's still just a blob, but we now can say that the object is bilobate and about 35 by 15 kilometers. It could still be two distinct objects orbiting very close to each other, but is more likely a single object with two lobes -- like comets Halley, Borrelly, Hartley 2, and Churyumov-Gerasimenko -- a common shape in the solar system. Space science artist James Tuttle Keane provided the mission with a sketch of its likely appearance.

Detecting 2014 MU69’s Size and Shape on Approach

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI; sketch courtesy of James Tuttle Keane

Detecting 2014 MU69’s Size and Shape on Approach
At left is a composite of two images taken by New Horizons' high-resolution Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), which provided the best indication of 2014 MU69's size and shape available before the encounter. Preliminary measurements of this Kuiper Belt object suggest it is approximately 35 by 15 kilometers. An artist's impression at right illustrates one possible appearance of the object, based on the actual image at left. The direction of its spin axis is indicated by the arrows.

And now we wait for the data downlink. Stay tuned for more pictures, likely to be released tomorrow!

Read more: trans-neptunian objects, New Horizons, New Horizons KBO target, mission status

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
Read more articles by Emily Lakdawalla

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