Perspective is Everything

From my Facebook post on New Year’s Eve:

Tonight as we watch the clock count down to the New Year, scientists around the world are watching two spacecraft doing something totally amazing but altogether different.

The New Horizons probe, which just a few years ago took some incredible photographs (and changed planetary science) as it passed Pluto, tonight, just past midnight, passes by Ultima Thule (Ull-tim-a Too-lee), a smallish object (about the size of New York – 20 miles across) in the Kuiper belt. Ultima Thule hadn’t even been discovered when New Horizons launched. Optima Thule is more than 4.1 BILLION miles from earth and a billion miles beyond the orbit of Pluto, so far away that even at the speed of light, radio messages to earth take six HOURS to return to earth. New Horizons is traveling at almost 10 miles per second (32,000 miles per hour) as it speeds by, but the photos and other information that it collects in the next few hours will take more than a year to transmit home. Ultima Thule is the most distant object that humanity has ever been able to study up close.

NASA OSIRIS-RExAnd earlier this evening, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, after a delicate astrophysical dance that lasted for months, has slipped into orbit around asteroid Bennu. While Bennu is “only” 1.2 billion miles away, it has taken OSIRIS-REx over two years to arrive since its launch. But if Ultima Thule is the most distant object we are studying, Bennu, at only 1600 feet wide, is clearly the smallest. And because Bennu is so small, its gravity is similarly weak, making it incredibly difficult to carefully place OSIRIS-REx into orbit. The spacecraft’s orbital speed is only one TENTH of a mile per hour (or five centimeters per second) and it is orbiting only 1.25 miles (2 km) from the center of Bennu. OSIRIS-REx will study Bennu for about a year, and then, around July of 2020, will descend, capture a sample from the surface of Bennu, and return that sample to earth in 2023.

While sometimes the news headlines make us despair for the future of the human race, we often fail to pay attention to those who represent the better part of our nature.

I often wonder what discoveries await us after the return of Jesus Christ when we will have all eternity to explore.

Happy New Year everyone.

 

 


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