Spacecraft makes most distant close encounter in history
Spacecraft makes most distant close encounter in history
The collected data on the Ground will continue through the fall of 2020
01 January, 2019, 15:59
Ultima Thule is orbiting in the heart of Kuiper Belt, a debris field of icy bodies - ranging in size from dwarf planets like Pluto to smaller planetesimals and comets - left over from the Solar System's formation 4.6 billion years ago.
NASA's Pluto exploring probe will pass Ultima Thule at 12:33 a.m. EST on January 1, 2019, marking the flawless New Year's day for astronomy lovers.
After that flyby, Stern and his colleagues set about searching for a new target in the Kuiper Belt, which extends from the edge of Neptune's orbit out to about 5 billion miles from the sun. "The spacecraft NASA is approaching the farthest object ever studied a spaceship 4 billion miles from the Sun and about 1 billion miles from Pluto", - stated in the message.
"Anything is possible out there in this very unknown region", said New Horizons deputy project scientist John Spencer. In the space of one 72-hour period, Ultima Thule will be transformed from a pinpoint of light - a dot in the distance - to a fully explored world.
After closely studying the asteroid for several weeks, Osiris-Rex fired its thrusters to bring it into orbit around Bennu at 7.43pm United Kingdom time on New Year's Eve.
But until it came into New Horizons' view, Ultima remained little more than a distant dot hardly different from the stars behind it.
"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".
Real-time video of the actual flyby is impossible, since it takes more than six hours for a signal sent from Earth to reach the spaceship, named New Horizons, and another six hours for the response to arrive.
At the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which built and operates the spacecraft, scientists will count down to the moment of New Horizons' closest approach, at 12:33 a.m.
Scientists had not discoveredUltima Thule when the probe was launched, according to NASA, making the mission unique in that respect. But because Ultima is so far away, these rich images won't be immediately available.
The outer body of Ultima Thule found in 2014 using the Hubble space telescope. The Kuiper Belt object (KBO) 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule, was selected partly because it was close enough for the spacecraft to visit before it ran out of fuel.
But beginning January 1, 2019, Ultima Thule will be far less mysterious, once the first images arrive.
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