New Horizons: Nasa probe survives flyby of Ultima Thule

Kerry GarnerJan 03, 2019

The close encounter marks the farthest spacecraft flyby in history. Given the uncertainty of MU69's position-it was discovered only four years ago and only a fraction of its orbit is known-New Horizons' first images had to cover a wide field, at low resolution.

An anxious spill-over crowd in a nearby auditorium joined in the loud celebration.

Mission scientists were relieved about the success because there was only one chance to get it right as New Horizons screamed past Ultima at 31,500 miles per hour. "This flyby is the culmination of years of careful planning and hard work, and we can't wait to transform Ultima into a real world". He wrote a new song to honor the mission called "New Horizons (Ultima Thule Mix)".

As revellers watched fireworks exploding in the night sky, billions of kilometres beyond the spectacle, NASA's New Horizons probe quietly notched up another wonderful first - making its closest approach to the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft. The program is a collaborative effort between NASA, the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, where scientists navigate and control the spacecraft.

Before the data transmission, Stern marveled at the achieement.

"We set a record". "I can't think a better reason to stay up late and get up early than this", said APL's head of space science, Michael Ryschkewitsch.

Stern summarized his team's accomplishments by saying, "They scored 100 on the test". Ultima Thule was chosen as the next target after an intensive search that made use of observing time on the Hubble Space Telescope. The space rock features a diameter of roughly 19 miles.

In 2015, New Horizons flew by Pluto, then the farthest object visited by a spacecraft from Earth. The probe gathered its last Pluto observations in 2016 and began making its way toward the Kuiper Belt.

The New Horizons spacecraft took the image just 2,200 miles (3,500km) from the bowling-pin shaped Ultima, which appears to be spinning end over end, measuring approximately 20 by 10 miles (32 by 16km).

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Scientists say Ultima Thule represents a class of objects known as "cold classicals" in the Kuiper Belt, a broad stretch of icy material beyond the orbit of Neptune.

Update 1/1/2019 12:48 p.m. ET: Scientists with NASA shared a slightly clearer image of what they affectionately referred to as a "pixelated blob" taken pre-flyby.

It is the furthest exploration of any object in the Solar System.

"Asteroids, comets and other small bodies hold material from the solar system's birth".

"Anything is possible out there in this very unknown region", he said.

At a news conference later today, the science team will share results that New Horizons sent back before its closest approach to Ultima.

Engineers at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland cheered when the spacecraft's first signals came through the National Aeronautic and Space Agency's Deep Space Network at (1528 GMT 11:28 p.m. Tuesday in Manila).

As most of America's East Coast counts down toward midnight tonight, ushering in a shiny new year, a group of NASA scientists and their attendant press will instead be counting down to a more spectacular event: the most distant flyby of a planetary object in history.

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