NASA's New Horizons Set to Make Historic New Year's Day Flyby

Зонд NASA приблизился к границе Солнечной системы

"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".

USA space probe New Horizons flew past 2014 MU69 Ultima Thule asteroid at the very edge of the solar system, making it the farthest from the Earth ever visited by a probe from our planet, NASA said on Tuesday.

"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.

Stern said the goal is to take images of Ultima that are three times the resolution the team had for Pluto.

The New Horizons made the flyby at 12:33 a.m. EST (0533 GMT) on January 1, passing within 2,200 miles (about 3,540 km) of the surface of Ultima Thule at a velocity of 31,500 miles (about 50,694 km) per hour.

Twenty-four hours before closest approach, Ultima Thule still takes up only two pixels in images taken by New Horizons' camera screen.

Scientists define the Kuiper Belts as a enormous zone of icy bodies and mysterious small objects orbiting beyond Neptune.

Scientists are not sure what Ultima Thule (pronounced TOO-lee) looks like - whether it is cratered or smooth, or even if it is a single object or a cluster.

Ultima Thule is what's known as a "cold classical Kuiper belt object".

Ultima Thule is orbiting in the heart of Kuiper Belt, a debris field of icy bodies - ranging in size from dwarf planets like Pluto to smaller planetesimals and comets - left over from the Solar System's formation 4.6 billion years ago.

Real-time video of the actual flyby is impossible, since it takes more than six hours for a signal sent from Earth to reach the spaceship, named New Horizons, and another six hours for the response to arrive.

According to a report in Digital Trends, NASA has already known that Ultima Thule's shape is not spherical, but that rather it boasts a kind of elongated shape, suggesting it could also be two objects which move close together.

"Today is the day we explore worlds farther than ever in history!"

"Anything's possible out there in this very unknown region", John Spencer, deputy project scientist for New Horizons, told reporters on Monday at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland.

When New Horizons passes by, the duo will be approximately 4 billion miles from the sun.

The NASA spacecraft that yielded the first close-up views of Pluto opened the new year at an even more distant world. In this case, the probe will literally sweep past Ultima Thule at a speed of 32,000 miles per hour (51,000 kilometers per hour or about 14.6 kilometers per second).

An artist's impression of the New Horizons spacecraft encountering a Kuiper Belt Object as part of a potential extended mission after the Pluto flyby.

He described the New Horizons spaceship as an "amazing piece of American workmanship, operating essentially flawlessly in space for well over a decade". "We'll find out Tuesday".

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