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Science Ticker

New Horizons’ next target caught making a star blink

Knowing object’s specs will help plan Pluto spacecraft’s 2019 flyby of MU69

telescope in Argentina

LYING IN WAIT  The New Horizons team spread 24 of these small telescopes around southern Argentina to catch a cosmic coincidence.

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With Pluto in its rearview mirror, the New Horizons spacecraft is zipping towards a more far-out object. But it’s not flying blind. Using ground-based telescopes, the New Horizons team has spotted its next destination eclipsing a distant star. The event will reveal the rock’s specs in advance of the spacecraft’s visit in a year and a half.

The object, called 2014 MU69, lives in the Kuiper Belt more than 6.5 billion kilometers from Earth. Members of the New Horizons team calculated that they would be able to see its shadow from the southern tip of Argentina just past midnight local time on July 17 as MU69 eclipsed (or occulted) a star.

So the team deployed a fleet of 24 16-inch-wide telescopes across the region to make sure the object didn’t slip past unseen.winking star gif

“At least five of them caught the shadow — which is more than I expected!” said team member Alex Parker of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., on Twitter. This is the fifth time the team has seen MU69 eclipse a star, and the first from this remote site.

New Horizons visited Pluto in 2015 and will fly by MU69 on January 1, 2019. The space rock will be the most distant solar system object ever visited. Details of the occultation will reveal MU69’s size, shape, orbit and environment, helping the team plan its observations.

“This effort…was the most challenging stellar occultation in the history of astronomy, but we did it!” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern in a statement.

Robotics,, Plants

This robot grows like a plant

By Helen Thompson 5:26pm, July 19, 2017
A new soft robot navigates its environment by growing in a manner inspired by plants.
Climate,, Science & Society

Rising temps may mean fewer passengers on airplane flights

By Maria Temming 5:30am, July 13, 2017
Global warming could force airplanes to carry a lighter load — and fewer passengers —on each flight.
Genetics,, Technology

CRISPR adds storing movies to its feats of molecular biology

By Helen Thompson 7:09pm, July 12, 2017
Video and images could be stored in living bacteria with a little help from the iconic gene editor, CRISPR.
Planetary Science

Here are Juno’s first close-ups of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

By Lisa Grossman 1:22pm, July 12, 2017
The Juno spacecraft swooped just 9,000 kilometers above Jupiter’s Great Red Spot on July 10. Here are the first pictures.

Teeny-weeny star vies for title of smallest known

By Emily Conover 7:00am, July 12, 2017
A Saturn-sized star is one of the smallest yet discovered.
Animals,, Ecology,, Science & Society

Whales feast when hatcheries release salmon

By Susan Milius 7:05pm, July 11, 2017
Whales: “They’re 40 feet long and they’re feeding on fish that are the size of my finger.”
Astronomy,, Cosmology

The most distant star ever spotted is 9 billion light-years away

By Lisa Grossman 4:51pm, July 11, 2017
A bright blue star sends its light from two-thirds of the way across the universe, thanks to a chance alignment with a galaxy cluster.
Planetary Science

Juno will fly a mere 9,000 km above Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

By Maria Temming 7:00am, July 7, 2017
Juno is about to get up close and personal with Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.
Astronomy,, Cosmology,, Physics

Satellite trio will hunt gravitational waves from space

By Lisa Grossman 4:58pm, June 20, 2017
The European Space Agency has green-lighted the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, expected to launch in 2034.
Paleontology,, Animals,, Evolution

New fossils shake up history of amphibians with no legs

By Susan Milius 3:30pm, June 19, 2017
The oldest near-relative of today’s snake-shaped caecilians could have an unexpected backstory.
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