Newshour, New Horizons prepares for furthest ever exploration

01 January, 2019, 16:42 | Author: Heather Diaz
  • The spacecraft captured stunning images of Pluto when it flew by the dwarf planet in 2015

Where to watch: The probe's team will gather at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, where they will watch the spacecraft fly across space.

NASA will also provide updates about another spacecraft, called OSIRIS-REx, that will enter orbit around the asteroid Bennu on New Year's Eve, Bridenstine said.

"New Horizons will continue in that legacy", Stern wrote.

NASA is celebrating the record-setting encounter with the solar system's nerdiest New Year's party.

This is truly unlike any object we've explored, elsewhere in our solar system!

So what is Ultima Thule?

When the spacecraft arrives, it will turn a suite of instruments onto the mysterious object, and many of its mysteries will be unveiled. The object appears to be irregularly shaped, about 20 to 30 kilometers in diameter, and tinted red. The Kuiper Belt is too far away, and way too cold to encourage the formation of any planets, leaving all its fragments frozen in time for billions of years. Owing to the probe's great distance from Earth and the relative weakness of its signal, it took several hours for scientists to receive and process the image. The New Horizons mission was extended in 2016 to visit this Kuiper Belt object.

Scientists had not discovered Ultima Thule when the probe was launched, according to NASA, making the mission unique in that respect.

Whether Ultima's surface is heavily cratered and if it has a rich surface geology - like that of Pluto - remains to be seen.

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A NASA illustration shows concept picture of the New Horizons spacecraft as it approaches Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, in July 2015. The object was subsequently designated 2014 MU69, given the minor planet number 485968.

Thule was a mythical island on medieval maps, thought to be the most northern point on Earth.

To the ancient Roman and Greeks, Ultima Thule was originally the most northerly part of the Earth, but the name was used to refer to anywhere which was outside the known world.

"We'll get to the bottom of this puzzle soon", Dr. Alan Stern, principle investigator of the New Horizons mission, told Digital Trends.

So when NASA chose a target for its New Horizons spacecraft that was farther than anything explored before, "Ultima Thule" seemed a fitting moniker.

Although scientists have modeled the shape of Ultima Thule, as the time of flyby draws closer, the team had hoped the object's "light curve" would have revealed more about it. In 2017, scientists determined that it isn't spherical, but more elongated. For example, the mission team still can not tell whether Ultima is a single or binary object.

A tiny, icy world a billion miles beyond Pluto is getting a New Year's Day visitor. Temperatures here are close to absolute zero because the region is so far from the sun. "Think of it. We're a billion miles farther than Pluto".

New Horizons - automatic interplanetary station NASAЗ, launched in 2006 to explore Pluto. It will also measure the Kuiper Belt's environment. "To show that presence, to really be here for these missions as we do these very challenging maneuvers".

It takes about six hours for the New Horizons data to get all the way back to Earth, and researchers expect that detailed images from the spacecraft's close flyby will be unveiled to the public on January 2. And we can learn its composition.

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