New Horizons Probe Flies By Distant Asteroid Ultima Thule

An artist's conception of what Ultima Thule might look like

An artist's conception of what Ultima Thule might look like

USA space probe New Horizons flew past 2014 MU69 Ultima Thule asteroid at the very edge of the solar system, making it the farthest from the Earth ever visited by a probe from our planet, NASA said on Tuesday.

Then, as now, the team celebrated while knowing that they had to wait to see if their plucky spacecraft had survived its encounter.

The New Horizons probe was slated to reach the "third zone" in the uncharted heart of the Kuiper Belt at 12:33 a.m. this morning ET - but NASA did not receive confirmation it was a success until 10:31am. He's particularly interested in stereo imaging for this leg of the mission.

A blurry image taken by New Horizons on its approach on Monday was shown during the news conference.

"Celebrating the whole 12-year Journey of New Horizons probe", the text about the song and music video on YouTube said. "It seems only fitting that the New Horizons flyby relied upon Maunakea/CFHT data". Many have likely remained the same since the dawn of the solar system, making them essentially time capsules for astronomers.

Scientists believe there should be no rings or moons around Ultima Thule that might endanger New Horizons.

The flyby took place about a billion miles beyond Pluto, which was until now the most faraway world ever visited up close by a spacecraft. Scientists are hopeful New Horizons will capture the real thing.

It is located in the Kuiper Belt, a huge asteroid belt that surrounds our solar system and contains the leftovers of the system's formation. Its odd shape means that it's either bilobate or in fact two objects in orbit around each other.

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Ultima Thule orbits a billion miles beyond Pluto and has been locked in a state of deep-freeze preservation since the universe began some 4.5 billion years ago.

New Horizons zoomed past the small celestial object known as Ultima Thule 3 ½ years after its spectacular brush with Pluto.

The object was previously known as 2014 MU69.

"We're very confident in the spacecraft and very confident in the plan that we have for the exploration of Ultima", said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons, at a December 31 press conference.

Project scientist Hal Weaver of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory said humans did not even know the Kuiper Belt - a vast ring of relics from the formation days of the solar system - existed until the 1990s. The object makes a full rotation every 15 or 30 hours, he added. "We've just accomplished the most distant flyby", announced Alice Bowman, mission operations manager.

Using observations made with Hubble on in 2014, the science team discovered an object that New Horizons could reach with its available fuel. In 2017, scientists determined that it isn't spherical, but more elongated. Scientists aren't yet sure if Ultima is a single body, a binary pair, or a system of many objects.

"Reaching Ultima Thule from 4 billion miles away is an incredible achievement". Temperatures here are close to absolute zero because the region is so far from the sun. This time, however, the spacecraft will fly three times closer to the target than it did to Pluto. "We are ready for Ultima Thule science transmissions ... science to help us understand the origins of our solar system". It was never perturbed or moved, and it formed in an area where ice is as strong and hard as rock, so it never melted or formed a core.

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