Why NASA chose Senegal to observe a frozen world beyond Pluto

Salma Sylla Mbaye, is the first Ph.D. student in Astronomy in Senegal. She is in her second year at Cheikh Anta Diop university in Dakar. Mbaye was part of two dozen Senegalese astronomers and scientists that accompanied NASA's New Horizons team to observe the flyby of an ancient object called the Ultima Thule (beyond the known world) orbiting just beyond Pluto. The views expressed in this commentary are solely hers.

Dakar, Senegal (CNN)On a night in August, an object called 2014 MU69 passed in front of a star and blocked its light. This phenomenon, called a stellar occultation, lasted just a second and was visible only in certain regions in Africa (more exactly in Senegal, Mali and Algeria) and in South America in Colombia.

MU69 is an icy object of the Kuiper Belt, (informally named Ultima Thule) which was discovered in June 2014 with the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA is pursuing this object to learn more about the origins of our solar system.
    Senegal was chosen to observe this occultation, because of its political stability, and the existence of a community of amateur astronomers and scientists.
      The choice of Senegal was made despite the challenging climatic conditions in August (rainy season), which offered a probability of success of only 50%.
      The observations organized by NASA in collaboration with Senegal will help with precious data for the preparation of the New Horizon spacecraft's flyby of MU69, which will take place on the 1st of January 2019. It will help to confirm its shape, speed and position.
      This information is critical to make a successful approach of a small object at a distance a billion miles away from us.

      Most distant world ever explored

      MU69 is about 6.5 billions kilometers away from the sun. This is the most distant and most primitive world ever explored by spacecraft. The team behind NASA's New Horizons, after successful exploration of the dwarf planet Pluto and its moons in July 2015, decided to extend the mission further.
      Considering the possibilities offered by the current trajectory of the New Horizons probe, MU69 was chosen as the next target for a close flyby. In order to collect data for this object, the New Horizons team took advantage of a stellar occultation on July, 3, 2017, visible in Argentina and South Africa.
      The results from these observations suggested that the object has an elongated shape or could consist of two objects rotating around each other.