NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Just Visited the Most Distant Object Ever Explored

NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Just Visited the Most Distant Object Ever Explored

NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Just Visited the Most Distant Object Ever Explored

Scientists made a decision to study Ultima Thule with New Horizons after the spaceship, which launched in 2006, completed its main mission of flying by Pluto in 2015, returning the most detailed images ever taken of the dwarf planet.

The flyby at 12:33 am Tuesday (0533 GMT) will take place about a billion miles beyond Pluto, which was until now the most faraway world ever visited up close by a spacecraft.

FILE - This illustration provided by NASA shows the New Horizons spacecraft.

"Even less than a day away, Ultima Thule remains an enigma to us, but the final countdown has begun", said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

"New Horizons will continue in that legacy", Stern wrote.

"We're going to learn more very soon", John Spencer, New Horizons deputy project scientist, said Monday.

To the ancient Roman and Greeks, Ultima Thule was originally the most northerly part of the Earth, but the name was used to refer to anywhere which was outside the known world.

Scientists say Ultimate Thule shouldn't contain rings or moons that would damage New Horizons.

Ultima Thule is named for a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and cartography, according to NASA.

"This mission is about human curiosity - the need for mankind to go out there and explore what makes the universe tick", May said Monday at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, site of the New Horizons headquarters.

It was discovered in 2014 by the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA's vaunted social media operation, which had fallen silent during the partial government shutdown, has been temporarily restored to cover the event. That's three times closer than New Horizons's encounter with Pluto.

"The Voyagers and Pioneers flew through the Kuiper Belt at a time when we didn't know this region existed", Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said in a statement.

'Because of where it was formed and the fact that Ultima is not large enough to have a geologic engine like Pluto and larger planets, we expect that Ultima is the most well-preserved sample of a planetary building block ever explored. As New Horizons speeds through space at 9 miles per second, it will take less than a day to turn Ultima Thule back into a speck in the rear view mirror.

Scientists suspect Ultima Thule is a single object no more than 32 km long, though there's a chance it could prove to be two smaller bodies orbiting each other or connected by a slender neck.

While the mission marks the farthest close-encounter of an object within our solar system, NASA's Voyager 1 and 2, a pair of deep space probes launched in 1977, have reached greater distances on a mission to survey extrasolar bodies. Images of the object taken just before the encounter will grow to a few more pixels, transmitted back to Earth at the speed of light in about six hours.

A processed version of the raw photo shows the object as an elongated blob.

"Who knows what we might find?".

Related news