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Why did NASA choose Senegal to observe the frozen world of Pluto



MU69 is a Kuiper Belt ice object (unofficially called Ultima Thule), which was discovered in June 2014 using the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA is pursuing this object to learn more about the origin of our solar system.

Senegal was chosen to observe this occult because of its political stability and the existence of a community of amateur astronomers and scientists.

The choice of Senegal was made, despite the difficult climatic conditions in August (rainy season), which gave a probability of success of only 50%.

Observations, organized by NASA in collaboration with Senegal, will help with precious data for preparing the flight of the New Horizon spacecraft MU69, which will take place on January 1, 2019. This will help confirm its shape, speed and position.

This information is crucial to successfully approaching a small object a billion miles away.

The most distant world ever explored

MU69 is approximately 6.5 billion kilometers from the Sun. This is the most distant and primitive world ever explored by spacecraft. The team behind the new horizons of NASA after successful exploration of the dwarf planet Pluto and its moons in July 2015 decided to continue the mission.

Considering the possibilities offered by the current trajectory of the New Horizons probe, the MU69 was chosen as the next target for a close span. To collect data for this object, the New Horizons team took advantage of stellar occlusion on July 3, 2017, visible in Argentina and South Africa.

The results of these observations showed that the object has an elongated shape or may consist of two objects rotating around each other.

In August 2018, about 21 Senegalese scientists were actively involved in the training, observing possible locations throughout the country in the region stretching from Thiès to St. Louis.

They noted the locations of the observations, and this work was critical because NASA participants came to observational sites, often in rural areas, at night. Then Senegalese scientists were trained on using telescopes and data acquisition systems to be fully operational during the night of observation.

The purpose of the training was to install a telescope and a collection system, direct the telescope to the hidden launch field of view and obtain data within 10-20 minutes.

Each team included one Senegalese scientist (graduate student, graduate student or professor) and two astronomers from NASA or France (French planetary scientists also participated in the experiments).

During the observation observed in Senegal, we collected data using telescopes, noted in 21 different locations. These data are photometric measurements that allow you to accurately record the time when the MU69 passes in front of a star and blocks its light.

Since there was a rainy season in Senegal, we were unable to collect data from all 21 sites. A total of three sites received useful data.

But, given the weather during an occlusive night, we were really glad that the observation was observed.

View one of the telescopes of the New Horizons space program in Dakar.

The origin of our solar system

In Senegal, astronomy is not taught at the university level. However, the government of Senegal is building a planetarium and an astronomical observatory.

For the new generation, Senegal would like to focus on research areas in which it can contribute, based on available equipment, experience and financial resources.

Read more: Africa travel into space

This includes monitoring the effects of meteoroids on the moon or giant planets, a review of variable stars, searching for observations of exoplanets, or monitoring the atmosphere of giant planets.

A study of MU69 New Horizons will allow us to learn more about the origin of our solar system.

The span will open the unknown world. As for Pluto, knowledge of this object will change from a “tiny point” to high-resolution images of mysterious landscapes.

Data collected from observations help clarify the preprints for the farthest planetary collision in history.
The recent geological activity of Pluto, the presence in the solar system of the world's largest nitrogen glacier with a thickness of 1000 kilometers and the blue color of its atmosphere were among the first 10 unexpected discoveries as a result of the New Horizons take off in Pluto. Who can say what will be found on MU69?
The future of this collaboration is also in our hands, through the development of research projects in our country and at the African level, for example, in the framework of the African Initiative on Planetary and Space Science and the preservation of connections that have been established with NASA scientists on this issue.

Ideas were raised, such as organizing a future seminar on a planetary atmosphere. We learn a lot by comparing our planet with other planets, and in the context of climate change, such a seminar on planetary atmospheres in Senegal really makes sense.


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