Sunday, 20 January, 2019


New Horizons travels 4 billion miles from Earth in farthest flyby ever

New Horizons Alan Stern NASA announcement: New Horizons set for historic flyby TOMORROW
Kristine Garrett | 01 January, 2019, 23:14

"Everything we are going to learn about Ultima - from its composition to its geology to how it was originally assembled, whether it has satellites and an atmosphere and those kinds of things - are going to teach us about the original formation conditions of objects in the solar system".

The NASA spacecraft that yielded the first close-up views of Pluto opened the new year at an even more distant world. Though nerve-wracking for engineers, encounter mode ensures that New Horizons makes the most of its brief time near Ultima Thule.

The flyby of Ultima Thule is scheduled for 12:15 a.m. ET, January 1, 2019. The first was to provide information about the dwarf planet Pluto and its moons, and then travel further out to the Kuiper Belt to gather more data.

Its New Horizons probe sped past a odd object called Ultima Thule at about 5.30am, snapping pictures as it zoomed by at high speed.

New Horizons flew three times closer to Ultima than it did by Pluto, coming within 2,200 miles of it and providing a better look at the surface. "We hardly know anything about it", says Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, at APL.

At mission control in John Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, the New Horizons team has been using the spacecraft's cameras to snap new pictures of Ultima Thule on approach. A version of the image with superimposed lines shows where stars blinked out as they passed behind Ultima Thule, and two red circles indicate how Ultima Thule would be oriented if it is really a pair of objects.

New Horizons can't talk to Earth and point to take observations at the same time, and so only after a post-flyby signal is received can the team really relax and begin to anticipate the scientific bonanza heading their way.

The US space agency is hoping to take a closer look at a tiny, distant world called Ultima Thule early on Tuesday, hoping the frozen cosmic object will reveal some clues as to how planets took shape 4.6 billion years ago. "We're very confident in the spacecraft and very confident in the plan that we have for the exploration of Ultima", said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons, at a December 31 press conference.

It is located in the Kuiper Belt, a huge asteroid belt that surrounds our solar system and contains the leftovers of the system's formation.

The New Horizons is approximately 4 billion miles from the sun.

Ultima Thule is the first destination to be reached that was not even known until after the spacecraft's launch.

Wherever we've explored in the Solar System, we've found the unexpected.

Ultima Thule is named for a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and cartography, according to NASA. "We'll find out soon enough". "From here out, the data will just get better and better".

"As you celebrate New Year's Day, cast an eye upward and think for a moment about the awesome things our country and our species can do when we set our minds to it", Stern wrote in the New York Times on Monday.

It is roughly 20 miles long and shaped like a giant peanut.

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NASA Makes Space History With Distant Fly-By NASA Makes Space History With Distant Fly-By As New Horizons travels closer to the object, the pattern of light reflecting off of Ultima, or its light curve, is inconsistent. On the left, Ultima Thule is imaged by New Horizons at the start of December 2018, from a distance of 38.7 million kilometres.

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