After months of traveling through space, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft can finally see their next destination in the Kuiper Belt. The spacecraft's cameras captured 48 images of the small Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule on August 16th. By the time the pictures were taken, New Horizons was more than 100 million miles from the object.
"The field of view is extremely rich in background stars, making it difficult to spot weak objects," says Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist and his telescope camera LORRI Principal Investigator. "It's really like finding a needle in a haystack." In these first pictures Ultima only appears as a bump on the side of a background star that's about 1
Officially known as the 2014 MU69, Ultima Thule is a small, frozen object orbiting a billion miles beyond Pluto on the outer edge of our solar system. The property was discovered only in 2014 and seems to be around 20 miles long. Like other Kuiper Belt objects, the age-old 2014 MU69 could contain important clues to the formation of the outer solar system.
The New Horizons space probe approaches this object on January 1, 2019. If all goes to plan, Ultima Thule will be the most primitive and distant object ever seen by a spaceship.
2014 MU69 is still a mystery in recent years despite observations of the Hubble Space Telescope. This first discovery by Ultima Thule will refine New Horizons' path to the object and provide more information about its size, shape, environment and other conditions.
"Our team has worked hard to determine if Ultima was discovered by LORRI distance, and the result is a resounding yes," said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern. "Now we've got Ultima in the sights, more out of the way than ever before, we're standing in front of Ultima's door and we're looking forward to an amazing exploration!"
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has a historic one on July 14, 2015 Flyby to Pluto and its moons. In the most recent mission, the spaceship will fly three times closer to its destination than Pluto in July. The upcoming flyby will give a more detailed look at such an original building block of the solar system.