New Horizons Spacecraft Getting Close To New Year's Flyby Target

Posted: Dec 30 2018, 8:30pm CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
New Horizons Spacecraft Getting Close to New Year's Flyby Target
An artist's illustration of New Horizon at Pluto. Credit: NASA.

Ultima Thule will be the farthest world ever explored by a spacecraft.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft that made a historic flyby of Pluto three and a half years ago will soon reach its next target: a distant object in Kuiper Belt.

At 4 billion miles from Earth and one billion miles beyond Pluto, Ultima Thule will be the farthest object ever visited by a spacecraft. New Horizons will fly past the frozen relic of the solar system on January 1, 2019 and collect as many images and as much data as possible while maintaining the speed of 32,000 miles per hour.

"This is a time capsule that is going to take us back four and a half billion years to the birth of the solar system.” Alan Stern, the principal investigator on the project at the Southwest Research Institute, said in a statement.

Ancient Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule or MU69 was discovered in 2014 and appears to be no more than 20 miles long. The object orbits in the dark and frigid Kuiper Belt, a region of the Solar System that exists beyond the eight planets and contains many small bodies. Like other objects in the Kuiper Belt, Ultima Thule is a remnant of the early solar system and can hold clues to the formation of planets.

"It is teeming with literally billions of comets, millions of objects like Ultima which are called planetesimals, the building blocks out of which planets were formed, and a smattering – a handful of dwarf planets the size of continents, like Pluto," said Stern. "It is important to us in planetary science because this region of the solar system, being so far from the Sun, preserves the original conditions from four and a half billion years ago."

New Horizons is expected to reach Ultima Thule around midnight Jan. 1, while the closest approach to the primitive space rock will come at 12:30 a.m. That flyby will be the first-ever close-up examination of a small Kuiper Belt object and the most distant in the history of space exploration, surpassing the previous record New Horizons itself set at Pluto in July 2015.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.

 

 

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