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NASA New Horizons photographs Ultima Thule in the historic flyby of the New Year



  new-horizons-mu69-ultima-thule

The impression of an artist from the NASA's New Horizons probe encountering Ultima Thule (2014 MU69), an object of the Kuiper Belt, on January 1 2019 one billion miles beyond Pluto orbiting.


NASA / Johns Hopkins University ̵

1; Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute / Steve Gribben
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is ready to explore more distant worlds than ever before as it flies past MU69 (MU69) in the early hours of the New Year, conducting a series of checks and trajectory corrections to ensure that New Horizons is on the right track to gather as much information as possible about the mysterious object – nicknamed Ultima Thule – without plummeting into any lurking debris in the outer reaches of our solar system.

"This last day was probably the most intense for us," said Alice Bowman, New Horizons mission manager at APL, to CNET sister site CBS News. "We had brought these optical navigation measurements closer together, which meant a lot of the team was busy all night."

She also said the spacecraft would pass within 19 miles of her destination. That's about 2,200 miles from the object.

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On December 15, the twelve researchers from the New Horizons Hazard Watch team confirmed that the approach route was safe with the New Horizons Telescope Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI). If they had discovered near Ultima Moons or Rings, NASA would have opted for a secondary trajectory, with New Horizons making course corrections and passing the object from a much greater distance.

As New Horizons get closer Ultima Thule gets brighter and brighter. Soon the spacecraft will fly past the mysterious object at a distance of 2,200 miles from its surface.


NASA / Johns Hopkins – Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Laboratory / Henry Throop

"The team fully agreed that the spacecraft should remain on the narrower trajectory, and the mission leadership took our recommendation," said Mark Showalter, head of the Hazards team.

New Horizons will fly past Ultima Thule from a distance of 3,500 kilometers (approximately 2,200 miles). This is the optimal way. To put this into perspective, do you remember the epic photos of Pluto ? New Horizons cameras grabbed them as they flew 12,500 kilometers from the surface of the distant dwarf planet.

Thus, New Horizons Ultima Thule will come three times closer than Pluto, providing NASA researchers with valuable images and scientific data of a world of which we know virtually nothing.

On December 26, New Horizons entered Encounter Mode, a kind of "safe mode" that ensures that the mission's scientific objectives are performed even when the spacecraft fails. Under normal circumstances, a Malfunction New Horizons home asks for help, but now that this lasts 12 hours, it is risky when the spacecraft is in its immediate vicinity.

In practice, calling the Encounter mode means that the spacecraft is now on its own. With thousands of instructions loaded into the on-board computers, he began his tender dance, a billion miles behind Pluto.

Two days before we left New Horizons, it snapped the high-resolution image of the distant "worldlet" "But: The dark, pixelated blur below shows Ultima Thule in its center, 10 million kilometers away.

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New Horizons discovers Ultima Thule (circled) in the high-resolution image captured by LORRI on December 24th


NASA / Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

Within a week, the tiny light pixel in the distance becomes a familiar world. We'll see what it looks like, what it's made of, how cold it is, how big it is and if it has its own moons.

New Horizons will literally ring in the New Year, passing by at the farthest reaches The world we've ever explored, with the narrowest approach to take place on January 1st at 12:33 pm (ET). Although the US is currently in an ongoing federal government shutdown, you can still see the reactions and live flyby simulations on the New Horizons mission website. Data and flyby images are expected later on New Year's Day, sometime after 11:30 ET.

After a year of big space news New Horizons will hopefully put on the right Flyby track in 2019. I also suggest you play the Interstellar soundtrack on New Year's Eve, settle down and marvel at the new world, that we are about to discover.

First release on December 26th, 4:23 pm PT
Update of December 27th at 6:35 pm. PT: Adds that New Horizons has gone into Encounter mode and is on its way to its historic flyby.
Update from December 31st, 8:55 am. PT: Adds a comment from the APL Mission Manager. 19659032] CNET's Holiday Gift Guide: The Place Where The Best Tech Gifts For 2018 Can Be Found.

NASA turns 60: The space agency has brought humanity further than anyone else, and plans are to go further.


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