New Horizons explores most distant object ever visited

New Horizons explores most distant object ever visited

New Horizons explores most distant object ever visited

Scientists do not yet have a clear picture of exactly what Ultima Thule is, whether a single object or a cluster, spanning about 19 miles (30 kilometers) in diameter.

Scientists did not want to interrupt observations as New Horizons swept past Ultima Thule - described as a bullet intersecting with another bullet - so they delayed radio transmissions.

Ultima Thule is the first destination to be reached that was not even known until after the spacecraft's launch.

A composite of two images taken by New Horizons' high-resolution Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), which provides the best indication of Ultima Thule's size and shape so far.

Though the closest point of the flyby, only 2,200 miles above Ultima Thule's surface, occurred just after midnight, the spacecraft was pointed at the object for a few more hours with its antenna, rigidly locked to the spacecraft body, pointing away from Earth.

New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern gives a high five too New Horizons Mission Operation Alice Bowman.

'Flyby data has already solved one of Ultima's mysteries, showing that the Kuiper Belt object is spinning like a propeller with the axis pointing approximately toward New Horizons, ' Nasa added.

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After trekking one billion miles beyond Pluto into the Kuiper Belt, New Horizons will now seek clues about the formation of the solar system and its planets.

Scientists rejoiced at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) today at 10:29 a.m. EST, saying the moment ushered in the new era of "exploration from the enigmatic Kuiper Belt, a region of primordial objects that holds keys to understanding the origins of the solar system". The spacecraft is believed to have come within 2200 miles (3500km) of Ultima Thule. "Never before has a spacecraft explored anything so far away", said the project's lead scientist who led the countdown to the close encounter, Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute. Its extended mission then set its sights on a new object further into the Kuiper Belt. The Ultima Thule rendezvous was more complicated, given the distance from Earth, the much closer gap between the spacecraft and its target, and all the unknowns surrounding Ultima Thule. Although NASA's Voyagers crossed the Kuiper Belt on their way to true interstellar space, their 1970s-era instruments were not almost as sophisticated as those on New Horizons, Weaver noted, and the twin spacecraft did not pass near any objects known at the time.

A thousand cheering scientists and families awaited confirmation at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, that the spacecraft survived and recorded data.

"We finally have reached the outskirts of the solar system, these things that have been there since the beginning and have hardly changed - we think". Its unusual shape means that it's either bilobate or in fact two objects in orbit around each other.

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

Bowman takes comfort and pleasure in knowing that long after New Horizons stops working, it "will keep going on and on".

The twin planetary feats coincided with the 50th anniversary of the first time humans ever explored another world, when U.S. astronauts orbited the Moon aboard Apollo 8 in December 1968. The mission was launched in 2006 and took a 9½-year journey through space before reaching Pluto.

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