Spacecraft opens new year with flyby on solar system’s edge
By MARCIA DUNN
AP Aerospace Writer
Wednesday, January 2
LAUREL, Md. (AP) — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft pulled off the most distant exploration of another world Tuesday, skimming past a tiny, icy object 4 billion miles from Earth that looks to be shaped like a bowling pin.
Flight controllers in Maryland declared success 10 hours after the high-risk, middle-of-the-night encounter at the mysterious body known as Ultima Thule on the frozen fringes of our solar system, an astounding 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto.
“I don’t know about all of you, but I’m really liking this 2019 thing so far,” lead scientist Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute said to applause. “I’m here to tell you that last night, overnight, the United States spacecraft New Horizons conducted the farthest exploration in the history of humankind, and did so spectacularly.”
The close approach came a half-hour into the new year, and 3 ½ years after New Horizons’ unprecedented swing past Pluto.
For Ultima Thule — which wasn’t even known when New Horizons departed Earth in 2006 — the endeavor was more difficult. The spacecraft zoomed within 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of it, more than three times closer than the Pluto flyby.
Operating on autopilot, New Horizons was out of radio contact with controllers at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory from late Monday afternoon until late Tuesday morning. Scientists wanted the spacecraft staring down Ultima Thule and collecting data, not turning toward Earth to phone home.
Mission operations manager Alice Bowman said she was more nervous this time than she was with Pluto in 2015 because of the challenges and distance, so vast that messages take more than six hours, one way, to cross the 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers). When a solid radio link finally was acquired and team members reported that their spacecraft systems were green, or good, she declared with relief: “We have a healthy spacecraft.” Later, she added to more applause: “We did it again.”
Cheers erupted in the control center and in a nearby auditorium, where hundreds more — still weary from the double countdowns on New Year’s Eve — gathered to await word. Scientists and other team members embraced and shared high-fives, while the spillover auditorium crowd gave a standing ovation.
Stern, Bowman and other key players soon joined their friends in the auditorium, where the celebration continued and a news conference took place. The speakers took delight in showing off the latest picture of Ultima Thule , taken just several hundred-thousand miles (1 million kilometers) before the 12:33 a.m. close approach.
“Ultima Thule is finally revealing its secrets to us,” said project scientist Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins.
Based on the early, rudimentary images, Ultima Thule is highly elongated — about 20 miles by 10 miles (32 kilometers by 16 kilometers). It’s also spinning end over end, although scientists don’t yet know how fast.
As for its shape, scientists say there are two possibilities.
Ultima Thule is either one object with two connected lobes, sort of like a spinning bowling pin or peanut still in the shell, or two objects orbiting surprisingly close to one another. A single body is more likely, they noted. An answer should be forthcoming Wednesday, once better, closer pictures arrive.
By week’s end, “Ultima Thule is going to be a completely different world, compared to what we’re seeing now,” Weaver noted.
Still, the best color close-ups won’t be available until February. Those images should reveal whether Ultima Thule has any rings or moons, or craters on its dark, reddish surface. Altogether, it will take nearly two years for all of New Horizons’ data to reach Earth.
The observations should help scientists ascertain how deep-freeze objects like Ultima Thule formed, along with the rest of the solar system, 4.5 billion years ago.
As a preserved relic from that original time, Ultima Thule also promises to shed light on the so-called Kuiper Belt, or Twilight Zone, in which hundreds of thousands of objects reside well beyond Neptune.
“This mission’s always been about delayed gratification,” Stern reminded reporters. He noted it took 12 years to sell the project, five years to build it and nine years to reach the first target, Pluto.
Its mission now totaling $800 million, the baby grand piano-sized New Horizons will keep hurtling toward the edge of the solar system, observing Kuiper Belt Objects, or KBOs, from afar, and taking cosmic particle measurements. Although NASA’s Voyagers crossed the Kuiper Belt on their way to true interstellar space, their 1970s-era instruments were not nearly as sophisticated as those on New Horizons, Weaver noted, and the twin spacecraft did not pass near any objects known at the time.
The New Horizons team is already pushing for another flyby in the 2020s, while the nuclear power and other spacecraft systems are still good.
Bowman takes comfort and pleasure in knowing that long after New Horizons stops working, it “will keep going on and on.”
“There’s a bit of all of us on that spacecraft,” she said, “and it will continue after we’re long gone here on Earth.”
The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
New Horizons scientists were masters of the long haul – here’s how people stick with extremely long-term goals
Updated December 31, 2018
Professor of Management and Sociology, Vanderbilt University
Professor of Management, University of Virginia
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Vanderbilt University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
University of Virginia provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
It took almost a decade for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft to navigate its way across the solar system to start taking and transmitting dramatic closeup photos of the dwarf planet Pluto. Another three and a half years passed before New Horizons performed the furthest flyby in history, zooming past a Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule. Initially turning funding into the reality of a launch involved another five years before all that. Was it worth the wait? One team member calls it “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to participate in “a history-making event,” so apparently it was.
Lurking behind the scientific excitement are questions about the nature of work that involves goals with very long time horizons, goals that may never be reached in one person’s working lifetime. A Washington Post profile of New Horizons scientist Andy Cheng reminded us that life happened during the long wait. As New Horizons made its three-billion-mile way through the solar system, Cheng’s kids grew up, his father and a brother died, a daughter married, hair thinned, health changed.
What’s it like to do the kind of work in which the time horizon to accomplishment is so vast? Here’s what Cheng told the Post: “You just have to teach yourself: Wait. Just wait. Be patient. It’s a very long time.” Indeed it is. So how do people who thrive in these settings stay motivated?
More than just patience
Patience is, as they say, a virtue, and we admire Andy Cheng’s copious reserves of it, but we suspect there’s more to it than that. The pursuit of long-term goals poses challenges relevant to professionals in a variety of work settings, not just space scientists on a Pluto mission. Many lines of work involve balancing short-term demands with long-run hopes and strategies, and the tension between the two has a lengthy provenance in the study of management among both academics and practitioners.
Much is known about the psychology of goals: decades of research have shed light on how and why goals motivate task performance in all sorts of settings. We know, for instance, that specific, challenging and attainable goals motivate in the short run, and we know that short-term goals are more motivating than long-term goals. Very little of this work, however, looks at goals and motivation beyond short time spans.
Until, that is, our research on how people stay motivated when goals take not just years but decades to reach. We interviewed professionals (researchers as well as administrators) in various fields – biomedical science, nanotechnology, astronomy, biodiversity and others – whose work meets three criteria: goals with decades-long time horizons, very slow progress along the way and significant chance of failure.
A complex stew of motivation
We learned from our data that people mine several sources of motivation that sustain them for the long haul, some rooted in what is going on in the present, and some located in thoughts about the future.
In their present circumstances, people who persevere are deeply interested in their work, exploiting opportunities to apply their expertise, acquire knowledge, and make intermediate discoveries along the way. A learning mindset is crucial, because orienting oneself solely toward accomplishing the task leads people to avoid or give up on difficult goals when performance payoffs don’t materialize quickly. Long-run motivation is also juiced by perceptions that the work alongside the waiting is challenging, risky, surprising and fun. Social and professional cachet matters as well: gaining recognition from peers, working with prestigious others, being first to the goal and ultimately having a chance to prove skeptics wrong.
In terms of the future, individuals pursuing very long-term goals sustain motivation by envisioning possible futures that result from the work they are doing. This can include not just contributions to their professional or scientific disciplines, but broader impacts on people, societies and future generations.
People find additional motivation by invoking symbols, metaphors and historical allegories to give life to these envisioned futures. The people in our study spoke of moon landings, the Wright Brothers, climbing Mount Everest and “doing it the same way Darwin did.”
They envision not only impacts on others, but a sense of how they themselves may be changed by pursuit of the goal. These “possible selves,” as we label them, are motivated by the prospect of finding new truths, having their beliefs confirmed, overcoming obstacles and becoming known for seizing rare opportunities.
Just as persistence isn’t everything, neither is money. Pecuniary rewards do motivate, of course, and the long-term goal pursuers we spoke with did mention dreams of a big payoff down the road. But the more common and emphatic observation we heard is the belief that they could make more money doing other things – a sense of sacrifice in the name of the goal. Psychological rewards are the important currency along the way, with a marked tolerance for uncertainty regarding more tangible payoffs down the road.
Binding together these various forms of motivation is what psychologists call self-regulation – the processes through which we manage our own actions, thoughts and emotions. Research highlights several ways this happens: balancing multiple goals, avoiding distractions, keeping emotions in check, being receptive to feedback, coping with failure, rebounding from disappointments.
Being good at a job involving long time horizons is not just about being good at waiting; it’s about finding sources of motivation in the present you’re living as well as the future you’re envisioning, with advanced skills of self-awareness and self-regulation thrown into the mix.
The New Horizons mission is a compelling reminder that ambitious goals with extended time horizons are reachable when talented people find ways to stay motivated for the long haul. These are skills one can cultivate – and there’s a bit of irony in the fact that long-term pursuits do afford time to get better at it.
Masters of the long haul mark time not with superhuman patience, but with a variety of strategies that merge the journey with the destination. The long haul doesn’t feel so long when one is fully engaged. As one of the scientists we interviewed in our study observed, “Five years is the blink of an eye.”
Clean up your cyber-hygiene – 6 changes to make in the new year
December 28, 2018
Author: Elissa Redmiles, Ph.D. Student in Computer Science, University of Maryland
Disclosure statement: Elissa Redmiles receives funding from the National Science Foundation and Facebook. This funding has no requirements for particular research agendas or disclosures to the funding parties.
Data breaches, widespread malware attacks and microtargeted personalized advertising were lowlights of digital life in 2018.
As technologies change, so does the advice security experts give for how to best stay safe. As 2019 begins, I’ve pulled together a short list of suggestions for keeping your digital life secure and free of manipulative disinformation.
1. Set your boundaries and stick to them
As part of my research, I’ve recently been speaking with a number of sex workers in Europe about their digital security and privacy. One consistent thing I’ve heard from them is, “The best way to stay safe is to set boundaries.” Decide – on your own, and in advance – what data you’re willing to share with apps and online services, and stick to those limits.
That way, when the latest new app asks you for a permission that oversteps what you’re willing to share, you’ll be more prepared to answer. Also set limits on the online discussions you’re willing to participate in; bow out when a discussion is hurting more than helping you. It’s even useful to set boundaries for how much time you’re willing to spend on digital security – which could be an endless task.
2. Burst your filter bubble
People who get their news primarily – or exclusively – from social media are subjecting themselves to the whims of the algorithms that decide what to display to each user.
Because of how these algorithms work, those people are likely to see articles only from news sources they already like and tend to agree with. This isolation from people with other views, and from evidence that might challenge particular perspectives, contributes to unprecedented levels of partisanship and disagreement in modern society.
Free online tools like AllSides and Purple Feed are some places that show news reports and social media posts from differing political perspectives, and identify information that’s generally agreed upon across the political spectrum.
3. Manage your passwords
The biggest threat to password security is no longer the strength of your passwords but the fact that many people reuse the same passwords for all, or many, of their accounts. Researchers are busy designing notifications to tell you when one of these reused passwords has been leaked to the world, but it’s safer to use different passwords, especially for your most valuable accounts.
You can use password manager software. Or, use the original low-tech method, writing your passwords down on paper. Believe it or not, it’s much safer to write them down than reuse the same password everywhere. Of course, this is true only if you’re sure the people you live with or frequent visitors to your home won’t try to get into your accounts.
4. Turn on multi-factor authentication
Adding an additional step for logging in to your most important social media, email and financial accounts can add lots of protection. Multi-factor authentication systems are best known for texting you a six-digit code to type in as part of your login process. While any multi-factor authentication is better than none, text messages can fairly easily be intercepted or spied on. An even safer route is to use a special code-generating app on your phone.
People who change phones or SIM cards often, or who want additional protection, might consider using a physical key that plugs into your computer to authorize a login. They can take a bit more time to set up initially, but then work much faster than most other methods.
5. Delete apps you don’t use
Smartphone apps track where you are very closely, and share your location data with advertising and marketing companies.
Just carrying a phone in your pocket can give tracking companies clues to where you go and how long you stay, and technical details about your phone can offer clues to your identity.
If you don’t use an app anymore, uninstall it from your phone. If you need it again, you can always reinstall it quickly – but in the meantime, it won’t be tracking you around the world and around the web.
6. Keep the apps you do use up-to-date
Software companies don’t always know about all the vulnerabilities in their programs – and when they issue updates users don’t always know if they’re fixing a major problem or something minor. The top piece of advice experts give is to keep your software up-to-date on your computers and your mobile devices.
Having spent 2018 worrying about how hackers, corporate executives and hurried programmers might be trying to exploit your data and your cognitive and digital vulnerabilities, resolve to be more secure in 2019.
Alexandre Hocquet, Professeur des Universités en Histoire des Sciences, Université de Lorraine: Thank you Elissa for this “new year resolution” memo. While multi factor authentification is certainly a plus for any login practice in theory, it is also used as a trick from platforms to insist on knowing your phone number, and linking it to your profile. I have managed to survive until 2019 as a fb or gmail user without surrendering it (at the cost of more and more invasive blockings / captcha / etc… ) and it’s going to be harder everyday. I believe a sincere 2FA policy from a service could let the users decide which two factors they wish to use.