NASA’s New Horizons is poised for a historic New Year’s Day flyby

NASA’s New Horizons is poised for a historic New Year’s Day flyby

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is set to go where no probe has ever gone before this New Year's Day, when it beams back data from a tiny world that sits more than six billion kilometers away at the edge of the solar system. The object is so old and pristine that it's essentially like going back in time to the beginning of our solar system.

"Because this is a flyby mission, you only get one chance to get it right", Alice Bowman, mission operations manager for New Horizons, said in the webcast. The spacecraft, traveling at over 14 kilometers per second, will soar just 3,500 kilometers from the surface of an icy, rocky object nicknamed Ultima Thule perched in the outer reaches of the solar system. Ultima Thule is a enigmatic trans-Neptunian object found five billion miles from Earth in the Kuiper Belt region.

Until then, the New Horizons spacecraft continues speeding through space at 32,000 miles (51,500 kilometers) per hour, traveling nearly a million miles per day.

Three years ago, we stared with awe at the first close-up images of Pluto captured by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. In temperatures that cold, the rocks have essentially been frozen in time for billions of years. A flyby of an even more distant world could be in the offing in the 2020s, if NASA approves another mission extension and the spacecraft remains healthy.

The object was previously known as 2014 MU69. It took 4 1/2 hours, each way, for flight controllers at Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, to get a message to or from New Horizons at Pluto.

Thule was a mythical island on medieval maps, thought to be the most northern point on Earth. It's fitting, considering New Horizons' pioneering journey. "Our spacecraft is heading beyond the limits of the known worlds, to what will be this mission's next achievement".

Alabama beats Oklahoma in Orange Bowl to advance to title
One scan of social media during and after the game, and you'd see any and all variations of this talking point. Southern Cal was No. 1 all season until losing to Texas and Vince Young in the national championship game.

As we approach the probe's arrival at Ultima Thule, NASA is announcing its schedule of events related to the probe's flyby.

"By that first week of January we expect to have even better images and a good idea of whether Ultima has satellites, rings or an atmosphere". Scientists are interested in the belt because it is filled with comets, asteroids, and other minor planets that can tell us about the formation of the solar system, Stern said.

"Remember, it's about the size of greater San Antonio, and about as reflective as garden variety dirt", Stern said. "New Horizons is on the hunt to understand these objects, and we invite everyone to ring in the next year with the excitement of exploring the unknown".

Ultima Thule that was discovered by the Hubble Telescope while the researchers were contemplating the Kuiper belt is more likely to be demystified by the scientists as the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORI) will take hundreds of snaps. In 2017, scientists determined that it isn't spherical, but more elongated. It could even be two bodies connected by a neck.

Based on its circular orbit, as opposed to the elliptical orbits of the planets, Ultima Thule formed 4 billion miles away in the middle of the Kuiper Belt. At the same time, Ultima Thule is 100 times smaller than Pluto and therefore harder to track, making everything more challenging.

Stern said any new discoveries from Ultima Thule will help unlock mysteries of the solar system's history.

Related Articles

  • Philippines: Cyclone Usman kills dozens

    Philippines: Cyclone Usman kills dozens

    At least 17 people were still missing and more than 40,000 left homeless by the storm, civil defence officials said. In its latest official update, the agency said the death toll had climbed to 68 with a further 12 people injured.
    Iowa, Washington governors make tasty bet over football game

    Iowa, Washington governors make tasty bet over football game

    The Cougars restored their two-touchdown advantage on Minshew's 9-yard touchdown pass to Dezmon Patmon with 1:02 left in the half. James Williams has a team-high 76 catches, but his 7.4 yards per reception ranks lowest among the top 10 receivers.
    Aides: Trump's wall pledge may not get expected results

    Aides: Trump's wall pledge may not get expected results

    Mr Trump's signature campaign pledge to build a wall along the US-Mexico border is now at the centre of a budgetary standoff . Representative Hakeem Jeffries said the country needed comprehensive immigration reform and border security.
  • Novak Djokovic Wins Record Title at Mubadala WTC

    Novak Djokovic Wins Record Title at Mubadala WTC

    Last year's champion, Kevin Anderson did not go down without a fight in an enthralling 4-6 7-5 7-5 affair. While the Russian took the first set 6-3, the Austrian drew level when he took the second set 6-4.
    Netflix's Bird Box Reaches 45 Million Views in First Week

    Netflix's Bird Box Reaches 45 Million Views in First Week

    This weekend brought news that Bird Box now holds the record for the most watches in a single week for a Netflix movie. I'd hope we can assume there's a good faith basis for saying 45 million, but there aren't any more details offered.
    Report details Samsung Galaxy A50 with 4,000mAh battery, 24MP camera

    Report details Samsung Galaxy A50 with 4,000mAh battery, 24MP camera

    The Samsung Galaxy A50 is expected to launch running on Android 9 Pie out-of-the-box based on its own One UI. This is particularly true for mid-range smartphones from Samsung , and Galaxy A50 happens to be one of them.
  • Houston girl, seven, is shot dead in Walmart parking lot

    Houston girl, seven, is shot dead in Walmart parking lot

    The gunman was described only as a bearded white man, possibly in his 40s, wearing a red hooded sweatshirt. Washington is expected to survive, according to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez , the AP reported .
    Ravens enter playoffs as 1 of the league’s hottest teams

    Ravens enter playoffs as 1 of the league’s hottest teams

    Flacco was behind center in 2012, when Baltimore captured its last division crown and ultimately won the Super Bowl. Mayfield finished 23-of-42 passing for 376 yards, with the three TDs and three interceptions for a 79.1 rating.
    Trump says `big progress being made' with China after Xi call

    Trump says `big progress being made' with China after Xi call

    A US delegation of trade officials is expected to travel to Beijing in early January for negotiations with the Chinese. Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the USA should take more objective view of China's development.
  • NYPD to Deploy Drone to Monitor Times Square on New Year's Eve

    NYPD to Deploy Drone to Monitor Times Square on New Year's Eve

    Police had planned to send up a drone to keep an eye on the festivities, but officials scrapped that idea because of the rain. In June, a gunman shot dead five employees of The Capital, a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland.
    Southampton vs. Manchester City - Football Match Report

    Southampton vs. Manchester City - Football Match Report

    Guardiola was also asked whether he would instil a different style of play in light of recent results: "Oh, I was waiting for that question".
    Elizabeth Warren takes first steps towards 2020 run for the White House

    Elizabeth Warren takes first steps towards 2020 run for the White House

    Instead, her use of a genetic test to prove ethnicity spurred controversy that seemed to blunt any argument she sought to make. In an email to supporters, Warren said she'd more formally announce a campaign plan early in 2019.