NASA's new horizons are on their way to Ultima Tule, a journey to see NASA's space ship passing this mysterious object on the Kauper's New Year's Belt. But as the investigation approaches, mission specialists must already deal with a rather strange observation – an anomaly in the way Ultima Thule reflects the light of the light.
The new horizons will zoom in on the past Ultima Thule at 12:33 am on January 1, 2019, with speeds greater than 50,694kph and at a distance of about 3,500 kilometers. We will be able to see the subject in exceptional detail, but until then, project scientists must face an unexpected mystery. By analyzing hundreds of photos taken by the object by New Horizons to date, the project's scientists are trying to measure its light – but they have failed to detect the periodic changes in the brightness of Ultima as it rotates.
Ultima Thule, as we already know, is not a spherical form. Back in 2017, observations made by telescopes in Argentina suggested that it was ovulatory or in the form of cigars, or perhaps even two objects that are in close proximity to one another (binary pair) or even touching (binary contact). It's cool, as we've seen objects like these before (here, here and here). However, what is strange in this case is that Ultima does not show constant variations in brightness – a kind of thing you would expect from a rotating object, because its surface reflects the arrival of light from the Sun. These periodic pulsations of light or light curve, in astronomers – are all insignificant in Ultima Thule.
"It's really a puzzle," New Horizons chief researcher Alan Stern said in a statement. "I call this Ultima Ultimate Ultimate – why is there such a small curve of light that we can not even discover it? I expect to come in for a detailed flight of photos to give us many more mysteries, but I did not expect it, and so soon."
So why is this remote object on the Kuiper Belt is devoid of the revealed curve of light?
Mark Bouy, a scientist from the Southwest Research Institute, said it was possible that Ultima Tule's rotating pole could point directly to New Horizons as it approached. So, from the point of view of the spacecraft, Ultima Thule turns, but the spacecraft can see only the same reflective side – hence the absence of a light curve. It would be like seeing a cheerful movement from the straight above. It's good, and perhaps the most plausible explanation, but it requires new horizons just to be locked in this particular orientation with Ultima Thule.
"Another explanation," says Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute, "is that Ultima can be surrounded by a cloud of dust that blurs its curve of light, as the comet's coma often exceeds the light reflecting the central [core]. "
It's another decent explanation, but as Shawwalter admitted, a heat source would be needed to create a coma of this size. The Sun is 4 billion miles away from Ultima, and its rays are probably too weak to produce such an effect.
Ann Verbiserer, a researcher at the University of Virginia and a researcher for new horizons, says Ultima Thule may be surrounded by many moons. In this multiple monthly scenario, each moon will produce its own curve of light, but collectively, these curves will emerge, the words of Verbesser, as "the overcrowded superposition of the curves of light." From the perspective of New Horizons, it would look like one, a small curve of light. The problem with this theory is that we have never seen anything similar in the Solar System, so if it is true it would be a new kind of astronomical phenomenon.
It's a neat mystery, but the riddle needs to be resolved in the coming days, while New horizons will get closer to the goal. My hope is that it is an extraterrestrial telecommunication thread directly directed to the Earth, but, unfortunately, it is probably only a dark, dead rock with a fairly wonderful spin.[NASA New Horizons]