NASA Is About To Perform The Most Distant Planetary Flyby Ever

Quebec's Pelletier leads 'farthest exploration of any planetary body in history'

Quebec's Pelletier leads 'farthest exploration of any planetary body in history'

Nearly four years after it's historic Pluto flyby, NASA's spacecraft, New Horizons, is hurtling toward the farthest object humans have ever explored for a New Year's Day flyby of a Kuiper Belt Object, known as Ultima Thule. The object is so old and pristine that it's essentially like going back in time to the beginning of our solar system.

The spacecraft's closest approach to this primitive space rock comes January 1 at 12:33 a.m. ET (0533 GMT).

As mentioned, the 6.5 billion mile distance means that signals from New Horizons take about six hours to reach Earth. It's located in the Kuiper Belt, the outermost region of the solar system beyond Neptune.

If New Horizons sounds familiar, it's because this is the spacecraft that conducted a historic flyby of Pluto in 2015, sending back unprecedented images of the dwarf planet and revealing new details about Pluto and its moons. If everything goes according to plan, we'll have plenty of New Year's presents awaiting us in 2019 as we get our first ever close look at a Kuiper Belt object.

The object was previously known as 2014 MU69.

A camera on board the New Horizons spacecraft is now zooming in on Ultima Thule, so scientists can get a better sense of its shape and configuration - whether it is one object or several.

Thule was a mythical island on medieval maps, thought to be the most northern point on Earth.

The distances between objects in our solar system, stretching from the Sun to Ultima Thule some 43 astronomical units (AU) away.

"What could be more exciting than that?" said project scientist Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University, part of the New Horizons team.

"That's gonna change overnight", said Alan Stern, planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute and principal investigator on the mission. "Our spacecraft is heading beyond the limits of the known worlds, to what will be this mission's next achievement".

The flyby of Ultima Thule is going to be quite the challenge, since the object is so small and hard to track from Earth.

Scientists speculate Ultima Thule could be two objects closely orbiting one another. Flying beyond Pluto, the spacecraft will whish into the space streaming to the ancient relic of the solar system.

Ultima Thule was first detected in 2014 using the Hubble Space Telescope, meaning the rock was only discovered after the New Horizons launch. In 2017, scientists determined that it isn't spherical, but more elongated. This area is so far from the sun, temperatures are just 35 degrees Kelvin above absolute zero. Ultima is 100 times smaller than Pluto, and Pluto is about the size of the United States. With the wildly successful flyby behind them, mission planners won an extension from NASA and set their sights on a destination deep inside the Kuiper Belt. He expects it to continue operating until the late 2030s, pointing out that it is only halfway through the Kuiper Belt.

Pelletier has worked on a number of other space missions, including the voyage the Cassini spacecraft took to Saturn, and he also participated in the Mars Curiosity landing. And we can learn its composition.

"Because this is a flyby mission, we only have one chance to get it right", said Alice Bowman, missions operations manager for New Horizons.

Recommended News

  • Hopman Cup: Roger Federer & Serena Williams win singles matches

    Hopman Cup: Roger Federer & Serena Williams win singles matches

    You'll get the latest updates on this topic in your browser notifications. I watched him all the time and I never knew how incredible it was".
    Kevin Spacey spotted in Baltimore as he awaits Nantucket arraignment

    Kevin Spacey spotted in Baltimore as he awaits Nantucket arraignment

    Cape Town - Disgraced actor Kevin Spacey was spotted in public for the first time since he was accused of sexual assault in 2017. Spacey retired in 2017 like a horse with a shattered leg retires from the Kentucky Derby.
    No talk of solution to USA  government shutdown, Trump tweets blame

    No talk of solution to USA government shutdown, Trump tweets blame

    The wall has been at the center of an impasse that has led to a partial government shutdown that will extend into 2019. He said that Trump had given up on the idea of "a solid concrete wall early on in the administration".
  • Dolphins cut ties with head coach Adam Gase

    Dolphins cut ties with head coach Adam Gase

    Landry clearly holds disdain for Gase, despite being one of the NFL's most prolific pass-catchers while playing for the MI native. The next coach will be the Dolphins' 10th since 2004, including three interim coaches.
    STRANGER THINGS Season Three Arrives On July 4th

    STRANGER THINGS Season Three Arrives On July 4th

    Season 3 of the worldwide sci-fi thriller hit is making its Netflix debut on July 4, 2019. The titles of the next batch of episodes are "Suzie, Do You Copy?"
    Manchester United vs. Bournemouth

    Manchester United vs. Bournemouth

    And the Belgian netted nearly instantly when he squeezed the ball past Begovic on his weaker right foot from another Pogba pass. Keeping with the tradition of the club, the Norwegian has brought attacking and expansive football back at Old Trafford.
  • No Money for Wall, No Signature on Bill to Fund Government

    No Money for Wall, No Signature on Bill to Fund Government

    Trump has promised to oppose any plan to re-open the government that does not include funding for his signature campaign progress. Chuck Schumer of NY , speaks to members of the media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Dec. 11, 2018.
    RB Leipzig enters race to sign Chelsea youngster Hudson-Odoi

    RB Leipzig enters race to sign Chelsea youngster Hudson-Odoi

    Pedro came off injured against Watford on Boxing Day and he is set to miss the next 10 days as he suffers from a hamstring injury. Bayern are planning to sign replacements for Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, who are in the twilight of their careers.
    Dipika Kakar wins Bigg Boss 12

    Dipika Kakar wins Bigg Boss 12

    The former cricketer ended up at the second position and Deepak Thakur walked away with the briefcase of money. With Dipika Kakar and Sreesanth, Salman danced to the title song of Partner and Character Dheela .
  • Bears still see room to grow with playoffs approaching | AP sports

    Bears still see room to grow with playoffs approaching | AP sports

    Los Angeles will host the San Francisco 49ers , who are winless on the road and lost to the Rams by 29 points earlier this season. The Vikings can still advance with a loss, but need defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia (8-7) to lose at Washington (7-8).
    Two Illegal Aliens 'Lied' to Help Another Evade Arrest for Officer's Murder

    Two Illegal Aliens 'Lied' to Help Another Evade Arrest for Officer's Murder

    Two Honor Guard Viewings will be held on Friday, Jan. 4 at the Newman Community Meeting Room and the Salas Brothers Funeral Home. Christianson also praised their partners in Kern County for apprehending Arriaga in Bakersfield.
    Bangladesh to vote tomorrow, security stepped-up, Hasina seeks 4th term

    Bangladesh to vote tomorrow, security stepped-up, Hasina seeks 4th term

    The situation at most of the polling centres in Dhaka city was peaceful, except allegations of vote rigging at few centres. Tousands of Awami League supporters rallied in the capital as candidates made a last-minute pitch for votes .

We are pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news.
Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper.
Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.