New Horizons set for historic flyby TOMORROW — NASA announcement

New Horizons set for historic flyby TOMORROW — NASA announcement

New Horizons set for historic flyby TOMORROW — NASA announcement

U.S. space probe New Horizons flew past 2014 MU69 Ultima Thule asteroid at the very edge of the solar system, making it the farthest from the Earth ever visited by a probe from our planet, NASA said on Tuesday. We won't actually know until a "phone-home call" signal is established Tuesday morning around 10 a.m. ET.

'An even more freaky scenario is one in which Ultima is surrounded by many tiny tumbling moons, ' said University of Virginia's Anne Verbiscer, a New Horizons assistant project scientist.

In 2015, NASA formally selected the body as a target for New Horizons. He's particularly interested in stereo imaging for this leg of the mission.

But New Horizons will finally fly by its target just after midnight on January 1, taking close-up photographs and sophisticated scientific measurements of what it sees.

"To me it epitomises the human spirit's unceasing desire to understand the universe we inhabit".

It is noted that the image from several frames are subjected to processing, can be seen the elongated body, the length of which is approximately two times greater than the width, however, whether a single object or a double system is unclear.

Ultima Thule is so dim and so distant that scientists aren't even certain what it looks like. "We're a billion miles further than Pluto, and now we're going to keep going into the Kuiper Belt". Imagers and spectrometers captured hundreds of photos as the spacecraft buzzed within 2,200 miles of the 20-mile-wide agglomeration of ice and rock, at a relative speed of 32,000 mph.

The Kuiper Belt is the edge of our solar system, part of the original disk from which the sun and planets formed.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: It takes about six hours for the spacecraft's data to get all the way back to Earth.

The encounter with Ultima Thule ("Ul-ti-ma Too-lee", from a Latin phrase that basically signifies "a place beyond the known world") comes nearly 13 years since New Horizons was launched in 2006, and three and a half years since the probe flew past Pluto in 2015.

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"At the very least, the nuclear-powered New Horizons will continue to observe objects from afar, as it pushes deeper into the Kuiper Belt". The mission was launched in 2006 and took a 9½-year journey through space before reaching Pluto. The object was subsequently designated 2014 MU69, given the minor planet number 485968.

"New Horizons will map Ultima Thule, map its surface composition, determine how many moons it has and find out if it has rings or even an atmosphere", said New Horizons principal investigator Dr. Alan Stern, also of Southwest Research Institute. "Our spacecraft is heading beyond the limits of the known worlds, to what will be this mission's next achievement".

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.

Ultima Thule exists in a profoundly frigid zone of the solar system where temperatures are near absolute zero - which is as cold as it gets (minus 460 degrees Fahrenheit). "If we want to know where we come from, we must study these objects", said Lori Glaze, acting director for the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters.

Ultimate Thule was unknown until 2014, eight years after New Horizons departed Earth. It was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope and added to New Horizons' itinerary.

Ultima Thule - an uncharted world over 4 billion miles away - is coming into view.

"Ultima is 100 times smaller than Pluto, but its scientific value is incalculable".

It will provide the first close-up look at such a pristine building block of the solar system, according to NASA. Hard water ice forms the bedrock on Pluto with softer ices on top, such as nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane. All in all, New Horizons will collect 50 gigabits of data, as compared to the 55 gigabits collected at Pluto. It will also measure the Kuiper Belt's environment.

STERN: Really, we have no idea what to expect. But because Ultima is so far away, these rich images won't be immediately available.

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