NASA’s Pluto Exploring Probe To Visit The Kuiper Belt

NASA’s Pluto Exploring Probe To Visit The Kuiper Belt

NASA’s Pluto Exploring Probe To Visit The Kuiper Belt

After the Pluto reconnaissance mission was concluded, NASA authorized New Horizons to take on an extended mission to study Ultima Thule, which was identified using Hubble Space Telescope imagery during the probe's cruise toward Pluto.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which has yielded the first close-up views of Pluto, was poised to ring in the new year by flying past the ancient icy object "Ultima Thule" some billions of miles away from Earth.

"Anything is possible out there in this very unknown region", said New Horizons deputy project scientist John Spencer.

For that reason, Stern said he and his colleagues were "on pins and needles to see how this turns out".

The U.S. space agency will ring in the New Year with a live online broadcast to mark the historic flyby of the mysterious object in a dark and frigid region of space known as the Kuiper Belt at 12:33 a.m. January 1 (0533 GMT Tuesday).

NASA's Pluto exploring probe will pass Ultima Thule at 12:33 a.m. EST on January 1, 2019, marking the flawless New Year's day for astronomy lovers.

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

Scientists say Ultimate Thule shouldn't contain rings or moons that would damage New Horizons.

A processed version of the raw photo shows the object as an elongated blob.


After the quick flyby, New Horizons will continue on through the Kuiper Belt with other planned observations of more objects, but the mission scientists said this is the highlight. In the newly released image, which the team received on Sunday (Dec. 30), Ultima is a few pixels wide. This "light curve" is the changes in brightness over time that New Horizons should pick up from Ultima Thule, as it rotates in space and the different features on its surface reflect back different amounts of light from the Sun (even at its far distance). The close encounter will mark the farthest spacecraft flyby in history.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which built and operates the spacecraft, said Tuesday it had "zipped past" the object known as 2014 MU69, or Ultima Thule. Clear images so far are only artists' renderings. But by Monday, with the New Horizons probe getting ever closer at the rate of 14.4 kilometres a second, Ultima Thule finally began revealing its shape.

After trekking 1 billion miles beyond Pluto into the Kuiper Belt, New Horizons will now seek clues about the formation of the solar system and its planets.

The almost circular orbit of Ultima Thule indicates it originated at its current distance from the Sun.

"Go New Horizons!" said lead scientist Alan Stern as a crowd cheered at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland to mark the moment at 12:33 am (0533 GMT) when the New Horizons spacecraft aimed its cameras at the space rock four billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away.

"This is the frontier of planetary science", said Weaver.

"Who knows what we might find?".

The New Horizons probe was slated to reach the "third zone" in the uncharted heart of the Kuiper Belt at 12:33am Eastern.

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