How a Space Snowman Called Arrokoth is Shedding New Light on Planetary Origins
The space snowman that was the focus of a close encounter with NASA's New Horizons probe last year is helping scientists answer a cosmic question: How did the building blocks of the solar system get their start?
"This is a game-changer," said Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute and principal investigator for the New Horizons mission.
Stern and other members of the New Horizons science team shared their latest findings about the snowman-shaped object now known as Arrokoth today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Seattle. Those findings are detailed in a trio of studies published by the journal Science.
The biggest revelation has to do with Arrokoth's ancient origins.
A detailed analysis of the object's double-lobed, snowman-like structure supports the view that Arrokoth came into existence when a localized cloud of primordial material collapsed into two nearby clumps that gently fused together.
That's in contrast to an alternate view, known as hierarchical accretion, which proposes that objects from different parts of the early solar system smashed together to form planetesimals like Arrokoth.
The studies released today follow up on first-look reports that were published in Science last May. The updated view presented by the scientists today is based on an analysis of 10 times as much data as they had available back then.
New Horizons was launched back in 2006 and got an unprecedented look at Pluto as it flew past in 2015. Arrokoth, which is a billion miles beyond Pluto, was chosen as the piano-sized probe's next target for observation. It's thought to be representative of the small mini-planets that took shape during the collapse of the solar nebula, the vast cloud of gas and dust that surrounded our infant sun.
With New Horizons' encounter with Arrokoth on New Year's Day of 2019, the space snowman became the farthest-out celestial object to be observed close up. The science team was wowed by the data that trickled back in the first months after the encounter, but they still had some mysteries to sort out.
This animated view of Arrokoth is based on images that were captured at slightly different viewing angles by NASA's New Horizons probe as it flew past. The 3-D effect helps scientists get a better sense of the Kuiper Belt object's shape and structure. NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI Image / Roman Tkachenko
Scientists now say several new clues have led them to the conclusion that Arrokoth's two constituent pieces formed in the same neighborhood of the primordial solar system and came together gently.
First of all, the two lobes have closely aligned poles and equators, and there's no evidence of a high-speed smash-up. "Only at much lower collision velocities, substantially less than the mutual escape speed, and at an oblique angle, do the outcomes of our simulations begin to resemble Arrokoth," the New Horizon scientists wrote in one of their research papers.
The simulations suggest that Arrokoth's two halves came together at a speed of 7 mph or less. "They're just kissing," William McKinnon, a planetary scientist at Washington University of St. Louis, explained at today's briefing. "If they were spacecraft, they'd be docking."
Another clue came from the uniformity of the object's spectral signature. Both lobes are unusually red in color, and spectral analysis suggests the strong presence of methanol ice. The fact that the two lobes are chemically homogeneous serves as further evidence that they formed in close proximity.
"It's drawing basically from locally sourced materials all at once," Lowell Observatory's Will Grundy said.
McKinnon said the cloud-collapse scenario would explain how the solar system got such a fast start 4.5 billion years ago. "It jump-starts planet formation," he said.
Planetesimals like Arrokoth almost certainly served as the seeds for growing bigger worlds, including terrestrial planets like Earth and gas giants like Jupiter, the scientists said.
A 3-D reconstruction of Arrokoth's shape indicates that the larger lobe measures 12.8 by 12.3 wide and 5.8 miles thick, while the smaller lobe is 9.6 by 8.6 miles wide and 6.1 miles thick. Those dimensions make the snowman look more like a squashed bug — but overall, it's not as squashed as scientists assumed it was last year. Arrokoth's volume is now estimated to be 30% larger than previously thought.
Today New Horizons is more than 315 million miles beyond Arrokoth and zooming outward through the Kuiper Belt, the icy ring of material on the solar system's edge. It's expected to keep sending back scientific data about Arrokoth for another year.
In the meantime, New Horizons' scientists will be using time on ground-based telescopes to search for more distant Kuiper Belt objects that could be candidates for a future flyby. Within the next year or two, they hope to identify a third way-out world that's ready for its close-up.
The three Science studies are "The Geology and Geophysics of Kuiper Belt Object (486958) Arrokoth," with John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute as first author; "The Solar Nebula Origin of (486958) Arrokoth, a Primordial Contact Binary in the Kuiper Belt," with William McKinnon of Washington University in St. Louis as first author; and "Color, Composition and Thermal Environment of Kuiper Belt Object (486958) Arrokoth," with Will Grundy of the Lowell Observatory as first author.
This story was originally published in GeekWire. Love space and science? Sign up for GeekWire's Space & Science email newsletter.
Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.
Brad Inman, founder of Inman, the leading real estate news source along with Spencer Rascoff, co-founder, executive chairman at dot.LA will be leading the discussion as the two leading active investors and experts in this space.
Startup Pitch Showcase: Real Estate Tech youtu.be
HomeOpenly helps our users to make the opportunity of homeownership transparent, affordable, and an open experience. HomeOpenly is an innovative and young Internet company that designs, builds, and maintains a series of online marketplace solutions with focus on home search, automated valuation modeling (AVM), home buyer's and seller's representation services, mortgage origination, refinance, home insurance, renovation, design, staging, home inspections, home security, moving, home maintenance, title, escrow, cash offer stand-in programs, home warranty, and other real estate products and services. HomeOpenly utilizes Open Systems Design and Privacy by Design principles behind the unbiased information we provide and the value-added Open Marketplace™ that we maintain.
VHomes is disrupting the antiquated motel / affordable housing industries. A proptech startup that strategically identifies distressed and vacant housing opportunities, leveraging these assets and turning them into nightly, weekly, or monthly budget rental options. By providing travel or living options to those that need it most we are able to provide significant impact for our customers' lives. VHomes provides the best budget accommodation in the Sun Belt United States.
JoyHub is developing an open platform to connect and automate existing multifamily operator systems to improve operating performance, increase revenue opportunities and enhance resident engagement.
Brad Inman, founder at Inman
Brad Inman, Founder at Inman<p>Award-winning journalist and publisher, Brad Inman is the founder and owner of Inman, real estate's leading name in news, information and innovation since 1983. In addition, his Inman-branded real estate business and technology conferences bring thousands of thought leaders together each year to share best practices and promote innovation. Countless new products and companies have been launched at Inman conferences.</p><p>A native of Carlinville, Illinois, and a graduate of Boston University, Inman began his career as a housing policy analyst and community advocate who parlayed a weekly real estate column in the San Francisco Examiner at the dawn of the Internet era into a series of entrepreneurial ventures. In 1999, Inman founded HomeGain.com, an early provider of online marketing programs. HomeGain was sold to Classified Ventures, LLC, in 2005. That same year, Inman founded TurnHere, an online commercial video platform and, in 2008, founded Vook, an online e-publishing platform. He also was an early investor in Curbed.com and served as chairman of the board before it was sold to Vox Media. A compelling speaker, he is a regular at real estate events around the nation and has been a visiting lecturer in the School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.</p>
Spencer Rascoff, Co-Founder, Executive Chairman
Spencer Rascoff, Co-Founder, Executive Chairman<p>Spencer Rascoff is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire and dot.LA, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. He is currently executive chairman of dot.LA and a board member at Zillow and TripAdvisor. In fall 2019 Spencer was a Visiting Executive Professor at Harvard Business School where he co-taught the "Managing Tech Ventures" course. In 2015, Spencer co-wrote and published his first book, the New York Times' Best Seller "Zillow Talk: Rewriting the Rules of Real Estate." Spencer is the host of "Office Hours," a monthly podcast on dot.LA featuring candid conversations between prominent executives on leadership, diversity and inclusion, and startups. </p>
Here are the latest headlines regarding how the protests around the killing of George Floyd are impacting the Los Angeles startup and tech communities. Sign up for our newsletter and follow dot.LA on Twitter for the latest update.
- Disney will donate $5M to Social Justice Groups
- Blck VC group launches 'We Won't Wait' campaign
- a16z VC firm launches fund to target diverse founders
- Snap stops promoting Trump's account in its Discover feature
Disney will donate $5M to Social Justice Groups<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM2OTY2MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjY2MTY2NX0._jc-luWmLRd9-UnBFZgyZJTm33I9_3T6Ssz9nZ3lkVY/image.jpg?width=980" id="7082f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c602ad745e2c03d3c0175cf24139e96f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
ABC's TV sitcom Blackish aired two "monumental and timely episodes" this week.<p>The Walt Disney company announced Wednesday that it will donate $5 million to nonprofit groups fighting for social justice, starting with a $2 million donation to the NAACP. </p><p>"The killing of George Floyd has forced our nation to once again confront the long history of injustice that black people in America have suffered, and it is critical that we stand together, speak out and do everything in our power to ensure that acts of racism and violence are never tolerated," said Disney chief Bob Chapek in a statement. "This $5 million pledge will continue to support the efforts of nonprofit organizations such as the NAACP that have worked tirelessly to ensure equality and justice."</p><p>In a statement, the company pointed to its previous social justice initiatives, including providing "millions of dollars in grants to help students from underrepresented groups make the dream of higher education a reality, including $2.5 million to the United Negro College Fund." Disney also noted that it matches employee donations to "eligible organizations" and that on Tuesday it re-aired two "monumental and timely episodes" of <em>Black-ish </em>on its ABC television networks before a primetime special titled "America in Pain: What Comes Next?" </p><p>In its quarterly earnings released last month, Disney reported nearly $40 billion in revenue in the six months to March 28, 2020. Net income over the same period was down 68% from the year prior, however, as most of the company's business units have been battered by the coronavirus pandemic.</p><p><em>— Sam Blake</em></p>
a16z VC firm launches fund to target diverse founders<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM2OTQ0MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDkwMzg3MH0.dhLyHYGgwtjLRdt65OFroB4fgSdsiZTeTSSEG88d7Mw/image.png?width=980" id="a1f14" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7a1c9842c8f468c18e05cdfc2be667a5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Ben and Felicia Horowitz will match up to an additional $5,000,000 total in any other donations.<p>One of Silicon Valley's most prominent venture capital firms <a href="https://a16z.com/2020/06/03/talent-x-opportunity/" target="_blank">announced Wednesday</a> it is launching a new fund designed for entrepreneurs who have the talent, drive and ideas to build great businesses, but lack the background and resources to do so.</p><p>In a blog post, the firm says it has been working on the fund for six months. However, the timing of the news this week is fortunate for an industry with a <a href="https://pitchbook.com/news/articles/vc-firms-have-a-diversity-problem-do-they-care" target="_blank">serious diversity problem. </a><span></span></p><p>a16z plans to fund a small group of founders in the first year, then expand after that. The initial capital will come from $2.2 million in donations from partners. Ben and Felicia Horowitz will match up to an additional $5 from other donations as well. The firm will invest in exchange for equity in the business, but all returns will stay in the fund to finance future entrepreneurs, which aims to back products from underserved communities that also have an "interesting model, niche market, and/or a little traction to indicate the promise and potential."</p><p>"We're venture capitalists, not activists," the firm said in its post. "Entrepreneurship hasn't been accessible to everyone, but the fact remains that being an entrepreneur is one of the most powerful ways to own your own future, to increase mobility across time and place, to invent new ways of doing things, and to forge a new system. As we emerge from this tragic moment, let's build.</p><p><em>dot.LA co-founder and executive chairman Spencer Rascoff is a board partner at a16z.</em></p><p><em><span></span>— Ben Bergman </em></p>
- Blavity CEO Morgan DeBraun Calls for Action After George Floyd ... ›
- George Floyd Protests: Music Industry Vows 'Blackout Tuesday' ›
- George Floyd Protests: Scooters Used as Barricades, LA Under ... ›
- George Floyd Protests: L.A.'s Tech Community Reacts - dot.LA ›
- Santa Monica, Beverly Hills announce 1 pm curfews - dot.LA ›
- George Floyd Update: Los Angeles County and City Lift Curfews - dot.LA ›
- George Floyd Protests: Why This Time Feels Different - dot.LA ›
- George Floyd Videos Were Watched Over 1.4 Billion Times - dot.LA ›
- National Venture Capital Association Launches Diversity Nonprofit - dot.LA ›
- Can Venture Capital Solve Its Whiteness Problem? - dot.LA ›
- Navigating the Venture Capital World as a Black Person - dot.LA ›