New Horizons: Nasa probe survives flyby of Ultima Thule

Our best view of Ultima Thule so far. The image on the right has been magnified and had the background stars subtracted from the image. (NASA  Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory  Southwest Research Institute

While the mission marked the farthest close-encounter of an object within our solar system, Nasa's Voyager 1 and 2, a pair of deep space probes launched in 1977, have reached greater distances on a mission to survey extrasolar bodies.

The name Ultima Thule was chosen through a nickname campaign hosted by the New Horizons team.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft was rocketing toward history Monday as it neared the most distant world ever visited by a human-made object: the mysterious, icy Ultima Thule, 1 billion miles beyond Pluto and an astounding 4 billion miles from Earth.

"The Ultima Thule flyby is going to be fast, it's going to be challenging, and it's going to yield new knowledge", Stern wrote on the New Horizons blog. Confirmation was not expected for hours, though, given the vast distance. At the time, Ultima Thule was at a distance of nearly 6.5 billion kilometres from the Sun, making this the most distant planetary flyby attempted, and the first time that a Solar System object of this type has been seen close-up, NASA said in a statement.

New Horizons' mission managers figure it will take 20 months to send back the roughly 6 gigabytes of science data that the spacecraft should have stored in its memory banks during the encounter. Many astronomy lovers were impatient to see what the dwarf planet looks like and eagerly waited for the moment it would pass by it.

TRT World spoke with Lawrence Krauss, a professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Department in Arizona State University, for more insights. NASA says Ultima Thule is likely the most primitive planetary object ever explored.

Ultima Thule ("very far", "the edge") - the expression used in the topographic value indication of a spatial, literal geographical position of the object, as in the idiomatic, in the form of metaphors or trail.

"We set a record".

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'Never before has a spacecraft explored anything so far away, ' New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said.

The New Horizons probe was slated to reach the "third zone" in the uncharted heart of the Kuiper Belt at around 9 am UAE time.

The encounter comes almost 50 years after Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps on the moon in July 1969.

But if all goes well, the first images should be in hand by the end of New Year's Day. Ultima Thule orbits a billion miles beyond Pluto and is probably a bit of a time capsule from the early solar system.

The collected data on the Ground will continue through the fall of 2020. In the hours before the flyby, radio signals were beamed from Earth toward the spacecraft in hopes of getting reflected readings relating to Ultima's composition.

From its brightness and size, New Horizons team members calculated its reflectivity, which is only about 10%, or about as dark as garden dirt.

Hal Weaver, a research professor at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and a project scientist on the New Horizons mission, said: "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity".

Stern said that Ultima Thule was unique because it was a relic from the early days of the solar system and could provide answers about the origins of other planets. "We'll find out Tuesday".

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