New Horizons Ultima Thule flyby

Зонд NASA приблизился к границе Солнечной системы

'In effect, Ultima should be a valuable window into the early stages of planet formation and what the solar system was like over 4.5 billion years ago'.

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. In the space of one 72-hour period, Ultima Thule will be transformed from a pinpoint of light - a dot in the distance - to a fully explored world.

The NASA spacecraft New Horizons that yielded the first close-up views of Pluto opened the new year on Tuesday at an even more distant world, a billion miles beyond.

It will take an estimated 10 hours for flight controllers to find out whether the spacecraft has survived the close encounter - and will find out if the pass was successful at about 3pm United Kingdom time. Clearer pictures are not expected for hours given the vast distance (bottom right the spacecraft's path).

"Ultima Thule is 17,000 times as far away as the "giant leap" of Apollo's lunar missions", Stern noted in an opinion piece in The New York Times.

"We are going to change what we know about the Kuiper Belt literally overnight", Stern told the audience during one of the pre-flyby panel discussions.

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

The space agency says it will pass the interstellar body at 5.33am GMT and take thousands of images as it does so. At the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which built and operates the spacecraft, scientists will count down to the moment of New Horizons' closest approach, at 12:33 a.m. "We're a billion miles further than Pluto, and now we're going to keep going into the Kuiper Belt".




But the encounter itself is risky, and if the spacecraft were to collide with a speck of space debris as small as a grain of rice, it could be destroyed instantly, mission managers warned. But, New Horizon's journey was to continue.

When the spacecraft arrives, it will turn a suite of instruments onto the mysterious object, and many of its mysteries will be unveiled.

A schedule of New Horizons Ultima Thule flyby events.

The New Horizons mission was extended to observe Kuiper Belt objects after its Pluto flyby, with more than two dozen Kuiper Belt objects on the list. That's three times closer than New Horizons's encounter with Pluto.

May, who has a doctorate in astrophysics, and is a New Horizons science collaborator, will be present at the New Horizons Maryland, Washington County, base of operations on New Year's Day to witness the historic final approach as it happens.

"New Horizons will map Ultima Thule, map its surface composition, determine how many moons it has and find out if it has rings or even an atmosphere", said New Horizons principal investigator Dr. Alan Stern, also of Southwest Research Institute. Subsequent observations suggest it is small - no more 20 miles across - and peanut shaped. It was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope and added to New Horizons' itinerary.

"Prior to the flypast, Mr Stern had said: "[Ultima Thule] is in such a deep freeze that it is perfectly preserved from its original formation.

STERN: Really, we have no idea what to expect.

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