New Horizons Will Make The Most Distant Flyby In The History
31 December, 2018, 10:11 | Author: Kelly Sanders
It is expected to have some new findings as the New Horizons is known to give detail pictures.
The distances between objects in our solar system, stretching from the Sun to Ultima Thule some 43 astronomical units (AU) away.
The spacecraft will fly as close as 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) to Ultima Thule, which is only about 20 miles (30 kilometers) long. It only reflects about 10 percent of the sunlight that reaches it, but imparts a reddish tint to what little light escapes.
As New Horizons homed in on its target in early December, extensive searches revealed no signs of moons, rings or any hazards near the object.
Scientists say Ultima is like a big frozen mummy born in the distant galaxy and should act like a time capsule because its frozen terroir should preserve its history. During that flyby, we got to see a complex world with icy mountains and frozen plains.
Based on its circular orbit, as opposed to the elliptical orbits of the planets, Ultima Thule formed 4 billion miles away in the middle of the Kuiper Belt.
As mentioned, the 6.5 billion mile distance means that signals from New Horizons take about six hours to reach Earth.
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will intercept the most distant and ancient space object yet on New Year's day.
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. That's what makes this deep-freeze target so enticing; it's a preserved relic dating all the way back to our solar system's origin 4.5 billion years ago. Temperatures here are close to absolute zero because the region is so far from the sun. Stern said that scientists will know the answer to these questions in just a few days' time. Also, the fact that Ultima Thule will become the first ever Kuiper Belt object to be studied leaves enough room (and hope) that great surprises will be uncovered.
At today's briefing, Stern, Missions Operations Manager Alice Bowman and Science Operations Manager Kelsi Singer were asked what they expect it to look like.
The Voyager spacecraft made their way above and below the Kuiper Belt in the 1990s, but were "blissfully unaware" of its existence.
But New Horizons' journey doesn't stop at Ultima Thule.
For now, though, the team is waiting to celebrate on New Year's Day. "And because it's a very complex enterprise to do one of these flybys, there are literally hundreds of variables that all have to choreograph perfectly", Stern said. "I expect the detailed flyby images coming soon to give us many more mysteries, but I did not expect this, and so soon". When New Horizons first glimpsed the rocky iceball in August it was just a dot.
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