New Horizons travels 4 billion miles from Earth in farthest flyby ever

Audrey Hill
January 2, 2019

Flight controllers said everything looked good for New Horizons' flyby of the tiny, icy object at 12:33 a.m. ET Tuesday.

The spaceship was to collect 900 images over the course of a few seconds as it shaved by at a distance of about 3,500km at a speed of 51,500km/h (32,000mph).

'An even more weird 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.

It's been a busy new year period for NASA: its Osiris Rex spacecraft just entered orbit around the asteroid Bennu on Monday, too.

'Ultima was formed in the middle of the Kuiper Belt, where temperatures are close to absolute zero, ' Stern wrote.

These bodies are time capsules, preserved in a deep freeze for the past 4.6 billion years.

"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". You can also follow along on NASA TV. At that distance, it takes six hours for the radio signals to reach Earth. And New Horizons is a 13-year-old spacecraft; its power generator produces less wattage than it used to, which means operators must carefully prioritize their use of remaining fuel.

Scientists speculate Ultima Thule could be two objects closely orbiting one another.

The Kuiper Belt object was discovered with the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014.

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This explains why, in earlier images taken before Ultima was resolved, its brightness didn't appear to vary as it rotated.

"We have a healthy spacecraft", said Alice Bowman, missions operations manager for the New Horizons spacecraft, as cheers erupted in the control rooms at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland.

"It's a better pixelated blob", said Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

An image of Thule, sent overnight and barely more detailed than previous images, deepens the mystery of whether Thule is a single rock shaped like an asymmetrical peanut or actually two rocks orbiting each other, "blurred together due to their proximity", Stern said.

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

Project scientist Hal Weaver of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory said humans did not even know the Kuiper Belt - a vast ring of relics from the formation days of the solar system - existed until the 1990s.

"This science will help us understand the origins of our solar system". "We'll find out Tuesday".

"Today is the day we explore worlds farther than ever in history!" It could be surrounded by a cloud of dust or gas that scatters its light, preventing New Horizons from seeing a discernible light curve.

"As you celebrate New Year´s Day, cast an eye upward and think for a moment about the awesome things our country and our species can do when we set our minds to it".

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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