US spacecraft closes in on flyby target

US spacecraft closes in on flyby target

The flyby of Ultima Thule is going to be quite the challenge, since the object is so small and hard to track from Earth. In 2015, the spacecraft gave the world a glimpse of Pluto, and ever since, it's moving towards a distant Kuiper Belt called the Ultima Thule. Like Pluto, it sits in the remote Kuiper Belt, the vast, icy, realm which is believed to contain many dwarf planets and other frozen detritus from the creation of the solar system.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will intercept the most distant and ancient space object yet on New Year's day.

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New Horizons Principal Investigator, Alan Stern stated that this is Ultima Thule's initial puzzle about the presence of such minute light curve.

NASA launched the spacecraft in 2006; it's about the size of a baby grand piano.

Three years ago, we stared with awe at the first close-up images of Pluto captured by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.

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If you want your New Year celebrations to be truly out of this world, then you might consider stopping by the New Horizons website. It will also measure the Kuiper Belt's environment.

This Kuiper Belt object was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014.

The probe's current target is an object known as Ultima Thule. New Horizons will have its scientific instruments pointing toward the object, measuring its color, composition, thermal signature, and other properties.

The final sequence of flyby instructions were sent on Christmas Day.

New Horizons will make its closest approach in the wee hours of January 1 - 12:33 a.m. EST.

As it stands, New Horizons will flyby Ultima Thule from a distance of 3,500 kilometers ( about 2,200 miles) - its optimal path. The coast should be clear: Scientists have yet to find any rings or moons around it that could batter the spacecraft. "However, it takes nearly six hours each way or about 12 hours and 15 minutes round trip to communicate with the spacecraft".

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"We expect that Ultima is the most well-preserved sample of a planetary building block ever explored", NASA said. If it's a single rock, it could be around 20 miles wide. Envision a baked potato.

"It's estimated to have a diameter of 30 kilometres right now, " Pelletier said.

Not a lot is known about Ultima Thule. They anticipate impact craters, possibly also pits and sinkholes, but its surface also could prove to be smooth.

That reddish tint of Ultima Thule?

"The Voyagers didn't even look at the Kuiper Belt because they didn't know there was a Kuiper Belt to look at", Dr Stern said.

NASA's unmanned New Horizons spacecraft is closing its memorable New Year's flyby target, the most distant world at any point examined, a frozen relic of the nearby solar system some 6.4 billion kilometers away. Ultima is 100 times smaller than Pluto, and Pluto is about the size of the United States.

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NASA contracted Pelletier to be the chief navigator of the spacecraft for the New Horizons mission, whose original plan was to fly past Pluto. Compare that with more than six hours at Ultima Thule. Due to their temperature they can not change internally and externally, keeping them frozen in time over billions of years.