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 when it flies past MU69 (MU69) in the early morning hours of the New Year.
Over the last two weeks, the spacecraft has evolved as a NASA scientist, conducting a series of checks and trajectory corrections to make sure New Horizons is on track to gather as much information as possible about the mysterious object – nicknamed Ultima Thule – without falling into any lurking debris in the outer reaches of our solar system.
On December 15, the twelve researchers from the New Horizons Hazard Watch team confirmed that the approach route using the New Horizons Telescope Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was safe. If they had discovered near Ultima Moons or Rings, NASA would have opted for a secondary trajectory where New Horizons would make course corrections and pass the object from a far greater distance.
"The team was in complete agreement that the spacecraft should remain on the narrower trajectory, and the mission leadership adopted our recommendation," said Mark Showalter, head of the Hazards team.
New Horizons will fly past Ultima Thule from a distance of 3,500 kilometers – its optimal route. To put this into perspective, do you remember the epic photos of Pluto ? New Horizons cameras grabbed them as they flew 12,500 kilometers off 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 in Encounter entered a mode, a kind of "safe mode," that ensures that the mission's scientific objectives are performed even if 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, entering 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" "Yet: The dark, pixelated blur below shows Ultima Thule in its center, 10 million kilometers away.
Within a week, this tiny pixel of light 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 2019 will hopefully put on the right Flyby track So, I suggest you suggest 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, 6:35 pm. PT: Adds that New Horizons has gone into Encounter mode and is on course for its historic flyby.
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