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You don't say!
NASA has flown a plane through shadow of Kuiper Belt object 6.6bn kilometres from Earth. The object is 2014 MU69, a maybe-40km-across more than 1.5bn km past Pluto that is the New Horizons mission's next port of call after its encounter with Pluto. Humanity has precisely zero close-up experience of such objects and we've only …
A friend of mine did a similar thing with ASCIIart and 11x17 fan-fold paper. He was nearly fired from his job at NASA (Ames Research Center, Moffett Field) the first time he printed it out. Later, it was much loved by kids in the Palo Alto Unified School District, usually printed out & displayed with a similar view of the Stanford Linear Accelerator, and a mosaic of SRI's Dish.
Unlikely, the scope is physically incapable of pointing towards the earth (or even close to horizontal). So unless they did a barrel roll to achieve an angle... (And why bother when there are dozens spy sattelites in orbit around earth capable of pretty much reading a license plate from orbit). They also still have a fleet of U-2 spyplanes for these purposes much more suited for those missions than a scope only capable of seeing in IR wavelengths
So, it's an asteroid 6.6 billion km out in the Kuiper Belt, that New Horizons is supposed to rendez-vous with. But suddenly said asteroid is passing between us and the Sun and we even put a plane in its shadow.
Article is a bit confusing, at first read I thought we put a plane in the shadow of something 6.6bn km away and thought : "not possible, even for NASA".
Anyways, this page clears up a lot of things. MU69 is traveling at an average speed of 4.47km/s (or 0.1491% of a sheep in vacuum), while New Horizons is currently whizzing along at 13km/s (0.4336% of sheep in vacuum).
Ah, the wonders of space. New Horizons is traveling almost three times faster, is already farther than Pluto, but it's going to take until the first day of 2019 to get to the same point.
Maybe El Reg knows more than they're saying about our primary's binary partner, out in the far-flung reaches beyond the Kuiper Belt. This unfortunate slip of the finger could finally be the wedge we need to crack open wide the conspiracy of silence surrounding the existence of alien life, the realm of which the Voyager probes are now within a few decades of exploring.
Or possibly not.
Not really. It was the shadow of a different sun and nothing to do with New Horizons. In more common terms it was a transit event, in which the MU69 passed across in front of a distant star. The magic was in predicting it and getting the plane to the right place at the right time.
Magic indeed. Little off topic, but at a uni open day last week, the daughter had a sample physics lecture, which I sat in on. She was okay, but is real geeky, I didn't get a lot of it. Special Relativity. For me, most amazing stuff mentioned were the calculations done by James Bradley in the early 1700's around light aberration, which helped him work out the speed of light, among other things. At least the chaps at NASA have a few decent 'puters to help them do stuff like mentioned in the story. Back then, Bradley probably only had a 286. Anyhoo, astonishing stuff from NASA, which makes me wish I had an interesting job.
Now that the cat's out of the bag, NASA might as well come clean. 2014 MU69 was struck by Voyager 1 a few years ago, knocking it out of its orbit (it was really struck hard, honest!)
It is transiting in front of the sun so they took the opportunity to take some measurements, and now know exactly where it will strike. In a few weeks it will strike the Earth in the Atlantic approximately 500 miles SW of the Canaries. This will cause a tidal wave 1200 ft high on the Irish and French coasts and 200 ft at NYC. They hadn't told anyone yet because Trump wants to sell his NYC properties before it is made public. The whole Russia thing is a fake news smokescreen to distract people from noticing how quickly he's selling all his holdings, done in cooperation with the NYT because they plan to sell their HQ and relocate to Pittsburgh.
Impressive enough that you can work out that a tidgy bit of rock a few billion km's away is going to pass in front of a star which is several light years further off.
More impressive that you can then work out the angle that's all going to happen at, so that it's visible from earth.
But getting a 747 to precisely the right place, above a rotating, orbiting planet, at precisely the right time, so that you can photograph the damn event happening... that's jaw-dropping. Makes what Kepler does seem like a doddle.
Beers all round to the people involved (and especially the one who said "Yeah, we can do this"). Me, I just hope I never get beyond being totally and utterly gobsmacked at this sort of thing.
Bits of hyperbole creeping in so far. The object didn't "whizz". It's out beyond Pluto and moving much slower than the Earth is. It would be more accurate to say that the Earth "whizzed" through the object's shadow. The footprint of the shadow was about the same size as the object itself, somewhere between 18 and 45 km. The shadow would have travelled at something like the Earth's orbital speed, which is maybe 50x faster than a jet. Probably the "occultation" (the official word) lasted only a few seconds.
Shadows of tiny objects billions of miles away cast upon the surface of the Earth by the light of another star... and they managed to a) calculate that and then b) put a 747 in-flight in precisely the right spot at precisely the right moment?
Mind. Officially. Blown.
Humans can be pretty damned amazing at times.
There's a branch of amateur astronomy dedicated to watching these occulations with networks of cameras placed on the predicted track of the event. Then its possible to deduce the occulting objects shape, mass, spin etc. Bloody subtle. Some guys put out a 10 mile track, with cameras and integrated GPS clocks every 1/2 mile.
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