NASA spacecraft zips by most distant world ever studied

Our best view of Ultima Thule so far. The image on the right has been magnified and had the background stars subtracted from the image. (NASA  Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory  Southwest Research Institute

Ultima Thule essentially means "beyond Thule", which suggests something that lies beyond what is known. As such, it is "probably the best time capsule we've ever had for understanding the birth of our solar system and the planets in it", Stern said.

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.

Ultima Thule is special for two reasons, writes Stern. At the time, Ultima Thule was at a distance of nearly 6.5 billion kilometres from the Sun, making this the most distant planetary flyby attempted, and the first time that a Solar System object of this type has been seen close-up, NASA said in a statement. But he was also inspired to release a new song celebrating New Horizons on New Year's Day. By the time the first images and data stream back to Earth, the borders of the known world will have expand once more.

"The Kuiper Belt is just a scientific wonderland", Alan Sterns, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, said on Sunday.

The New Horizons probe was slated to reach the "third zone" in the uncharted heart of the Kuiper Belt at around 9 am UAE time. This was the farthest object that any craft has ever visited. "There are a lot ideas and every one of them might be wrong". "We'll find out Tuesday". Eastern, then reconvene 10 hours later to watch first signals from the flyby stream onto their screens.

Normally, NASA TV and NASA's website would go dark during a government shutdown.

Future: We won't receive all the information on New Horizons until two years from now. Researchers know enough about this tiny world's orbit to be able to intercept it, Stern said, "but there's very little else we know". The mysterious target nicknamed Ultima Thule (TOO-lee) is 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) from Earth.

And rather than being like Pluto or the large planets in our solar system, Ultima Thule is a surviving planetary building block, primitive and pristine.

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The Kuiper Belt is the edge of our solar system, part of the original disk from which the sun and planets formed. NASA says Ultima Thule is likely the most primitive planetary object ever explored.

In 2014, astronomers found Thule using the Hubble Space Telescope and selected it for New Horizon's extended mission in 2015. Subsequent observations suggest it is small - no more 20 miles across - and peanut shaped. For example, the mission team still can not tell whether Ultima is a single or binary object.

For more updates, follow NASA New Horizons' Twitter account here.

From New Horizons' location, a radio transmission traveling at light speed requires just over six hours to reach Earth.

The latest image of Ultima Thule from New Horizons, taken on December 30, 2018, when the spacecraft was at a distance of 1.9 million kilometres.

Because of the power limits for New Horizons' transmitter, plus the extreme distances involved, the spacecraft will be sending back data at a rate of only 1,000 bits per second. New Horizons was set to take a total of 900 highest-resolution images throughout the flyby and the mission team will know in time how many of those images clearly show the object.

"It was Alan Stern, the project instigator of this unbelievable Nasa mission, who threw down the glove last May".

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