NASA probe flies past most distant object ever explored

03 January, 2019, 07:12 | Author: Kenneth Collins
  • Stern Ultima Thule flyby

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft notched a second triumph in its belt, passing close by a second object two-and-a-half years since it passed Pluto.

"Go New Horizons!" said lead scientist Alan Stern as a crowd including kids dressed in space costumes blew party horns and cheered at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland to mark the moment at 12:33 am (4:33pm AEDT) when the New Horizons spacecraft aimed its cameras at the space rock 6.4 billion kilometres away in a dark and frigid region of space known as the Kuiper Belt.

Scientists say there are two possibilities for this: Ultima Thule is either one object with two connected lobes, sort of like a spinning bowling pin or peanut still in the shell, or two objects orbiting surprisingly close to one another.

Scientists want New Horizons observing Ultima Thule, not phoning home.

Ultima Thule was unknown until 2014, eight years after New Horizons departed Earth.

The last image taken of Ultima Thule before New Horizons flew by the rocky body.

It's the most distant flyby in human history, since it occurred nearly four billion miles away from the sun.

With New Horizons out of contact with Earth from late Monday afternoon until Tuesday morning, Mission Control was pretty much empty, with all the festivities centered at a nearby campus building. Once received, the signals confirmed that the flyby had taken place and that New Horizons was operating perfectly.

Icy wilderness: The object lies in the Kuiper Belt, a huge area of mysterious chunks of ice and small planet-like objects that lies way beyond Neptune, and a billion miles further on than Pluto.

'He asked if I could come up with a theme for Ultima Thule which could be played as the NH probe reached this new destination'.

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May says Alan Stern, the Project Instigator of the NASA Mission, who approached him in May about writing a special song.

The New Horizons probe was slated to reach the "third zone" in the uncharted heart of the Kuiper Belt at 12.33am Eastern (1.33pm Malaysian time).

Ultima Thule, or 2014 MU69, is 4.1 billion miles from Earth.

On Tuesday, the New Horizons team announced the successful flyby at 10:31 a.m. EST after receiving "healthy" data from the spaceship, Engadget reported.

"Congratulations to NASA's New Horizons team, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Southwest Research Institute for making history yet again", NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine, said in a statement. "Think of it. We're a billion miles farther than Pluto". An answer should be forthcoming Wednesday, once better, closer pictures arrive.

Weaver said later this week the team will be able to see clearer images revealing whether there are craters on Ultima Thule's surface and other details. However, there is also a chance that Ultima Thule is two objects in orbit around each other.

This tiny, icy body has remained largely unchanged since the solar system's birth roughly five billion years ago, providing astronomers a kind of time capsule of conditions from that era.

Ultima will soon become the most distant world humanity has ever visited.

"Everything we are going to learn about Ultima - from its composition to its geology to how it was originally assembled, whether it has satellites and an atmosphere and those kinds of things - are going to teach us about the original formation conditions of objects in the solar system".

That better data won't take long to start turning up.

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