Nasa probe in landmark space exploration

NASA's New Horizons to make history with far-out visit to Ultima Thule

An unmanned NASA spacecraft sent a signal back to Earth Tuesday that it successfully made it through a risky flyby past the most distant planetary object ever studied, the United States space agency said.

New Horizons - the size of a baby grand piano - was expected to hurtle to within 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of Ultima Thule, considerably closer than the Pluto encounter of 2015.

Now 1.6 billion km beyond Pluto for its second mission into the Kuiper Belt, New Horizons will study the makeup of Ultima Thule's atmosphere and terrain in a months-long study to seek clues about the formation of the solar system and its planets. He wrote a song to honor the mission called "New Horizons (Ultima Thule Mix)".

We do know that Ultima Thule has a reddish colour, probably caused by exposure of hydrocarbons to sunlight over billions of years. The probe's flyby of Ultima Thule marked a milestone as it became the most distant object ever explored by a space probe launched from Earth.

Since temperatures this far from the Sun are barely above absolute zero - mummifying temperatures that preserves Kuiper Belt objects - they are essentially time capsules of the ancient past, the USA space agency said.

NASA's New Horizons probe has flown past Ultima Thule - a ball of dust and ice that's 6.5 billion kilometres from Earth.

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.

Images and data will start arriving later Tuesday, "science to help us understand the origins of our solar system", Bowman said.

'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'.

"It's surreal I've got to say", May said.




Ultima Thule belongs to a class of Kuiper belt objects called the "cold classicals", which have almost circular orbits with low inclinations to the solar plane, and which have not been perturbed since their formation perhaps 4.6 billion years ago.

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".

"Think about it - we're a billion miles further than Pluto."

A few black-and-white pictures might be available within an hour or two of that official confirmation, but the highly anticipated close-up shots won't be ready until later Tuesday or Wednesday, in color, it is hoped.

Initial flyby data has also revealed our first discovery about Ultima Thule, showing that it is spinning like a propeller, with its axis pointing approximately towards New Horizons. New Horizons rocketed from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2006.

By week's end, "Ultima Thule is going to be a completely different world, compared to what we're seeing now", Weaver noted. Its odd shape means that it's either bilobate or in fact two objects in orbit around each other.

"The data we have look fantastic, and we're already learning about Ultima from up close", Stern said.

'I was inspired by the idea that this is the furthest that the Hand of Man has ever reached - it will be by far the most distant object we have ever seen at close quarters, through the images which the space craft will beam back to Earth. It will take nearly two years before all of the data can be downloaded.

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