NASA ushers in 2019 with epic flyby of faraway world

01 January, 2019, 23:11 | Author: Dwayne Harmon
  • Stern Ultima Thule flyby

NASA got 2019 started off with a bang, successfully piloting the New Horizons spacecraft on a flyby of Ultimate Thule, an object in the Kuiper Belt, over 4 billion miles from Earth (over 40 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun).

Based on these two factors, this object could be a pristine piece of the early solar system, which formed at its current location, and thus was not tossed around by the gravity of the other planets (looking at YOU, Neptune), and has possibly gone completely (or almost completely) untouched for over 4.5 billion years. He said the Ultima Thule flyby was "much more challenging" than the one the spacecraft performed of Pluto in July 2015. Ultima Thule, a rock 30 kilometers (19 miles) in diameter, could be what numerous solar system's rocky planets looked like in their infancy.

Its New Horizons probe sped past a unusual object called Ultima Thule at about 5.30am, snapping pictures as it zoomed by at high speed.

EVER, " tweeted the project's lead scientist, Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute.

As the probe flies 2,200 miles (3,500 km) above Thule's surface, scientists hope it will detect the chemical composition of its atmosphere and terrain in what NASA says will be the closest observation of a body so remote.

"To me, this milestone of New Horizons is full of everything NASA and NASA Science is all about". 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 Ultima Thule.

"New Horizons holds a dear place in our hearts as an intrepid and persistent little explorer, as well as a great photographer", said Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory Director Ralph Semmel in a statement.

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It may be that Ultima Thule is similar to comets that follow elliptical paths taking them close to the sun, only Ultima was never perturbed and flung inward by a gravitational encounter with Neptune or Uranus. Images of the object taken just before the encounter will grow to a few more pixels, transmitted back to Earth at the speed of light in about six hours.

Scientists made a decision to study it with New Horizons after the spaceship, which launched in 2006, completed its main mission of flying by Pluto in 2015, returning the most detailed images ever taken of the dwarf planet.

Although the image provided a new look at Ultima Thule, it lacks detail. Data from watching this KBO pass in front of known background stars suggests that this is the likely shape of Ultima Thule.

There is no champagne in this dim and distant region, where a halo of icy worlds called the Kuiper belt circles the outermost edge of the solar system.

This is truly unlike any object we've explored, elsewhere in our solar system! By the time the first images and data stream back to Earth, the borders of the known world will have expand once more. "We will find out". "You can't get any better than that".

"Nothing has happened to these things since they formed", said John Spencer, a member of the New Horizons science team, at a pre-flyby briefing.



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In 2014, astronomers found Thule using the Hubble Space Telescope and selected it for New Horizon's extended mission in 2015. Ultima Thule orbits the sun from the Kuiper Belt - a massive region of frozen rocky bodies beyond Neptune's orbit.

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