NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Just Visited the Most Distant Object Ever Explored

01 January, 2019, 16:48 | Author: Jared Lewis
  • Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption Alan Stern

"There are no second chances for New Horizons".

"To me it epitomises the human spirit's unceasing desire to understand the universe we inhabit". Only then will NASA know if New Horizons survived the close pass.

This means that Ultima Thule should give scientists some valuable information into the early processes of a planet's formation, as well as what the solar system was like over 4.5 billion years ago.

This is truly unlike any object we've explored, elsewhere in our solar system! One of the biggest mysteries surrounding Ultima Thule is whether or not it's made up of one object or two very close together.

When the spacecraft arrives, it will turn a suite of instruments onto the mysterious object, and many of its mysteries will be unveiled. After getting stunning images of Pluto, the spacecraft continued hurtling through space at well over 30,000 miles per hour toward the outer reaches of the solar system's Kuiper belt. These bodies are time capsules, preserved in a deep freeze for the past 4.6 billion years.

The first signal back to Earth should come about 10 hours after the flyby, around 9:45 am (1445 GMT).

The flyby comes 3½ years after New Horizons swung past Pluto and yielded the first close-ups of the dwarf planet.

The New Horizons is expected to send back the first images of the object to the mission team after 8 pm IST Tuesday. Everyone who has devoted so much energy to this mission since its launch in January 2006 will be feeling they are actually inside that small but intrepid vehicle - only about the size of a grand piano - as it pulls off another spectacular close encounter.

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"It sounds like science fiction, but it's not", Alan Stern, the lead planetary scientist on the New Horizons mission, wrote in The New York Times on Monday. The object was subsequently designated 2014 MU69, given the minor planet number 485968. He'll be debuting his new song "New Horizons" during the event.

John Spencer, from the Southwest Research Institute, added: "Now it is just a matter of time to see the data coming down". "Our spacecraft is heading beyond the limits of the known worlds, to what will be this mission's next achievement".

Ultima Thule is named for a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and cartography, according to NASA.

Stern said Ultima Thule is unique because it is a relic from the early days of the solar system and could provide answers about the origins of other planets. "Thinking about the scale and magnitude of the exploration we're conducting, and I would say people are close to climbing the walls with anticipation".

Ultimate Thule was unknown until 2014, eight years after New Horizons departed Earth. For example, the mission team still can not tell whether Ultima is a single or binary object.

Until Sunday, the remote body located more than a billion and a half kilometres beyond Pluto, appeared as no more than a single pixel in the spacecraft's camera.

"Ultima is 100 times smaller than Pluto, but its scientific value is incalculable". It was never perturbed or moved, and it formed in an area where ice is as strong and hard as rock, so it never melted or formed a core. All in all, New Horizons will collect 50 gigabits of data, as compared to the 55 gigabits collected at Pluto.

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