On New Year's Day, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will fly with the 2014 MU69 Mystery Object, also called Ultima Thule.
It's official: The partial shutdown of the federal government will have interplanetary consequences.
As NASA's New Horizons spacecraft rages through the unexplored darkness of space, it is about to rendezvous on New Year's Day with Ultima Thule, the farthest and most primitive object ever explored by humanity.
The data collected by the mission will help scientists understand what the conditions were when our solar system was created billions of years ago.
But due to the shutdown, those interested in the important event will be left in the dark: there will be no NASA-sponsored press releases, no social media updates and, most importantly, no live [for some] NASA Webcast.
"What's a pity, that's really historic," new star sign investigator Alan Stern told FLORIDA TODAY on Thursday. "It's the farthest exploration of worlds in history, and without NASA being able to speak the word, I think this will be greatly mitigated for the public, and that's an unintended consequence of this shutdown."
If you want to follow New Horizons, you will need to tune in to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory's YouTube channel and website (pluto.jhuapl.edu) for updates.
Stern fears, however, that the range of APL is not nearly as large NASA.
"What will go down in history in the history of spaceflight, perhaps for a century, since the greatest exploration of all time will be the best kept secret in the world because we do not have the reach," he said.
The performance of a New Horizons probe artist when she was zoomed by Pluto in 2015. The ship will fly past the distant space rock Ultima Thule early on New Year's Day. (Photo: NASA (JHUAPL / SwRI), EPA)
The end of government cessation does not appear to have an immediate end, as both parties refuse to operate on President Trump's border wall. About 14,500 NASA employees were sent home without pay, while another 3,000 are either working or on call, even without pay.
NASA continues to operate the International Space Station (ISS) and other critical missions such as communications and emergency services.
"There is a lot of talk about the 50th anniversary of Apollo and how great it all was, it was great, but you know, it was like people's grandparents' time and I know a lot of people who think that we can not do great things anymore, "said Stern.
"Well, we're exploring billions of miles beyond Pluto and with a small American spaceship launched 13 years ago, with a small American spaceship, we're looking at the building blocks of the planets for ourselves and working for them all Time flawless. "
New Horizons first wrote history when, on July 14, 2015, after nine years of travel through our solar system, it flew within 8,000 miles of Pluto's surface and changed forever as we think of the small planet.
The New Horizons spacecraft sailed over Pluto in July 2015. NASA released a breathtaking flyby video in honor of the anniversary, a video released by NASA on July 14, 2017
Credits: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI / Paul Schenk and John Blackwell, Lunar and Planetary Institu
Images taken during the flyby inspired the audience and excited public imagination around the world. Pluto was no longer a lifeless, distant boulder, but a breathtakingly beautiful world of heart-shaped regions and ice volcanoes covered in orange snow.
On New Year's Day, Pluto will no longer be the farthest piece of rock our solar system on which we have cast our eyes. The small, brave probe – not much bigger than a wing – is supposed to focus its cameras on Ultima Thule, an Orlando-sized planetary body in a region outside Pluto.
Pluto from the point of view of the New Horizons probe, which carried a small part of the ashes of the explorer Clyde Tombaugh. (Photo: Associated Press)
Ultima Thule is a so-called planetary body, a tiny planet that could or could come together with many others under gravity to form larger planets.
"It's one of the things planets consist of," Stern said.
Like Pluto, Ultima Thule lives in the Kuiper Belt, the region of the Solar System beyond Neptune, which contains hundreds of thousands of objects such as asteroids, comets, and dwarf planets.
As part of the plan, New Horizons approaches Ultima Thule three times closer than the Pluto flyby (2,175 miles away) and provides the scientists with detailed photos and data, including high geological maps the resolution.
Apart from the investigation of Ultima Thule, the mission will also give scientists more information about the early evolutionary processes of the solar system. Many objects of the Kuiper belt have been undisturbed since the beginning of our heavenly neighborhood.
"[Ultima Thule] is one of those objects that went into the construction of smaller planets like Pluto, but also larger planets like Earth and Jupiter," said Stern. "But this one, because it was born so far from the sun, has always been kept at near zero absolute temperature, and that stops evolution, literally freezes it, which keeps it so good."
The live updates to the mission can be viewed from Stern's Twitter feed at @ NewHorizons2015 or @AlanStern . APL will also be broadcast on Periscope next week as the spacecraft approaches Ultima Thule, and people will be able to follow press conferences live on their website as of December 31st.
Queen guitarist Brian May, a doctorate in astrophysics, will debut a new song dedicated to New Horizons at around midnight on January 1st.
"This is a chance for parents to bring their children and see something that is not only historical but also fascinating," said Stern.
Contact Jaramillo at 321 -242-3668 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @ AntoniaJ_11.
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19459019] NASA / Johns Hopkins University – Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute