Ring in the New Year With NASA's New Horizons

Ring in the New Year With NASA's New Horizons

The nerdiest new year's party in the solar system happened Tuesday 6.4 billion km from Earth, where Nasa spacecraft flew past a distant world called Ultima Thule, the furthest object humans have ever explored.

Deep inside the so-called Kuiper Belt, a frigid expanse beyond Neptune that is also known as the Twilight Zone, Ultima Thule is believed to date back 4.5 billion years to the formation of our solar system.

New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern gives a high five too New Horizons Mission Operation Alice Bowman. Owing to the probe's great distance from Earth and the relative weakness of its signal, it took several hours for scientists to receive and process the image.

According to NASA, images captured during the spacecraft's approach, which brought New Horizons to within just 2,200 miles of Ultima at 12:33 a.m. EST, revealed that the Kuiper Belt object may have a shape similar to a bowling pin, spinning end over end, with dimensions of approximately 20 by 10 miles.

Joining the celebrations of enthusiastic scientists was Brian May, who is a guitarist with rock band Queen and also an astrophysicist.

"We're already learning about Ultima from up close", Stern said.

"The object is in such a deep freeze that it is perfectly preserved from its original formation", he said.

Our Solar System is a big place, and Ultima Thule is very far away.

What does it look like?

.

Scientists are not sure what Ultima Thule looks like, whether it is cratered or smooth, or even if it is a single object or a cluster.

More news: NASA’s New Horizons to fly by Ultima Thule on New Year’s day

Scientist have puzzled over why Ultima Thule does not appear to change in brightness, which would be expected of an elongated object that alternately shows its short and long sides as it rotates. 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.

In 2014, astronomers found Thule using the Hubble Space Telescope and selected it for New Horizon's extended mission in 2015.

The exact shape and composition won't be known until Ultima Thule starts sending back data in a process expected to last nearly two years.

"There's a lot of chatter in the science team room", Spencer said. "We'll find out Tuesday".

The NASA spacecraft that yielded the first close-up views of Pluto opened the new year at an even more distant world.

The confirmation isn't just a relief for the New Horizons team.

Scattered amongst the crowd are those who will carry on New Horizons' legacy - I've spotted team members from Nasa's Osiris-ReX spacecraft which entered orbit around the asteroid Bennu yesterday, and the leaders of upcoming missions to a odd metal asteroid called Psyche and to the trojan asteroids that share an orbit with Jupiter.

When the probe was launched in 2006 it had two goals.

The twin planetary feats coincided with the 50th anniversary of the first time humans ever explored another world, when United States astronauts orbited the Moon aboard Apollo 8 in December, 1968.

Related Articles

  • Bengals had no choice but to fire Marvin Lewis

    Bengals had no choice but to fire Marvin Lewis

    Team chairman Stephen Ross said it was time for the franchise to ditch a philosophy that was not working. Miami didn't see enough progress, so it chose to dump Gase after his three seasons at the helm.
    India beats Australia in Boxing Day Test to retain Border-Gavaskar Trophy

    India beats Australia in Boxing Day Test to retain Border-Gavaskar Trophy

    Talking about the MCG pitch, he said, "The wicket was always going to be a bit of a grind". I just think plain and simply we were outplayed and India deserved to win this Test.
    Lady Gaga Unveils Anime Cyborg at Her Las Vegas Show

    Lady Gaga Unveils Anime Cyborg at Her Las Vegas Show

    She's a perfectionist down to the smallest details, and her showmanship is unparalleled--her vocals, the costuming, the dancing, the hits.
  • Iran denounces Brazil's plan to move embassy to Jerusalem

    Iran denounces Brazil's plan to move embassy to Jerusalem

    Pompeo made the remarks as he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Brazilian capital Brasilia on Tuesday. He hinted that he would try to loosen gun laws, saying, saying "A good citizen deserves methods of defending himself".
    USA  crude oil inventories remain unchanged last week

    USA crude oil inventories remain unchanged last week

    At 441.4 million barrels, USA crude oil inventories are about 7 percent above the five-year average for this time of year. Both benchmarks posted third straight weekly declines, with Brent losing about 3 percent and WTI almost 0.4 percent.
    Absolutely Fabulous star Dame June Whitfield has died

    Absolutely Fabulous star Dame June Whitfield has died

    And she remained committed to radio throughout her career, most notably being Roy Hudd's versatile sidekick on his News Huddlines. Still acting at the age of 89, Whitfield played Sister Ruth in Eastenders before being made a Dame by the time she turned 92.
  • Form James Harden stars as Rockets beat Celtics

    Form James Harden stars as Rockets beat Celtics

    Kyrie Irving managed to keep Boston close through three quarters with a 23-point, 11-assist double-double. Backcourt running-mate Chris Paul has been sidelined for the last three games with a hamstring strain.
    How to recycle your Christmas tree

    How to recycle your Christmas tree

    This opportunity for curbside Christmas tree pickup is only available to Hellertown borough and Lower Saucon Township residents. Some conservation groups even collect trees to create fish habitat or stop erosion along streams.
    Philippine storm death toll rises to 22

    Philippine storm death toll rises to 22

    Government forecasters said Sunday that heavy rain would continue over the next 24 hours in the northern Philippines. Fifty-seven of the dead were reported from Bicol, while 11 people died in nearby Eastern Visayas , the office said.
  • Trump Invites Congressional Leaders For Talks As Shutdown Continues

    Trump Invites Congressional Leaders For Talks As Shutdown Continues

    Democrats oppose Trump's demand for wall funding, with Pelosi calling the wall immoral, ineffective and expensive . President Trump invited top lawmakers to the White House for talks as the partial government shutdown continued .
    Nuclear: Kim Warns US Against Sanctions On North Korea

    Nuclear: Kim Warns US Against Sanctions On North Korea

    Kim made the comments on Tuesday during his annual New Year's Day address laying out Pyongyang's top priorities for the 12 months ahead.
    Three wounded in Manchester knife attack: UK police

    Three wounded in Manchester knife attack: UK police

    The station is now closed, but there are no plans to cancel the New Year's Eve fireworks celebrations in the city centre. The city's fireworks display in Albert Square tonight will still go ahead with security increased.