NASA's New Horizons observations of Kuiper Belt

Published 3:43 AM ET, Thu November 29, 2018
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Artist's impression of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft encountering 2014 MU69, a Kuiper Belt object that orbits one billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto. The object nicknamed "Ultima Thule" will be the most primitive and most distant world ever explored by spacecraft. It has orbited undisturbed since the birth of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Steve Gribben
Two dozen Senegalese astronomers and scientists accompanied NASA's New Horizons team in Dakar, Senegal to collect precious data in preparation for the flyby of Ultima Thule on January 2019. Ancient objects in the Kuiper Belt like Ultima Thule, a medieval term that means beyond the known world, hold clues to the formation of planets and the "third zone" of our solar system in which they reside.
courtesy African Initiative for Planetary and Space Sciences
Ultima Thule passed in front of a star. This event is called a stellar occultation and could be seen from Africa and South America. The phenomenon causes the star to momentarily blink and lasts only a second. But the shadow it casts gives the team enough data on the shape and size of Ultima Thule to help the New Horizons spacecraft when it passes by the object in January. courtesy African Initiative for Planetary and Space Sciences
The event marked the first time Senegal was involved in a space mission to explore our solar system. Senegalese scientists were trained to use the telescope and acquisition systems, to be fully operational during the night of observation.
courtesy African Initiative for Planetary and Space Sciences
Occultation team member Michael Skrutskie (University of Virginia) is pictured here giving an impromptu lecture on observational astronomy to students from the University of Dakar following an "all hands" occultation team meeting near Dakar, Sénégal. From left are Mame Diarra Dieng, Bridget Anderson, Michael Skrutskie, Modou Mbaye, Abdou Lahat Dieng, Abdoulaye Ba, Salma Sylla Mbaye, and Patrick Edwards. NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Anne J. Verbiscer
African countries have been making their own strides towards space exploration. Nigeria is planning to be the first African country to send an astronaut into space. The government announced the plans last year, and is aiming to visit space by 2030. Currently, the Egyptian government is establishing the Egyptian Space Agency in collaboration with China. courtesy African Initiative for Planetary and Space Sciences
Across the continent new programs represent a growing appetite for space technology. The Africa Initiative for Planetary and Space Sciences involved in the NASA observation is aiming to elevate planetary and space science throughout the entire African continent. courtesy African Initiative for Planetary and Space Sciences