NASA spacecraft provides first image from record-setting flyby of Ultima Thule

Indian Scientist Dr. Shyam Bhaskaran is Helping to Navigate NASA's Spacecraft'New Horizons To Ultima Thule

Well Mark... NASA scientists confirmed on New Year's Day that the New Horizons spacecraft made contact with Earth to confirm its successful flyby of Ultima Thule.

New Horizons-which launched in January 2006 and has already flown by Pluto-will continue making observations of Ultima Thule over the next couple of years, with scientists hoping that the data collected will reveal the secrets of the distant object.

New Horizons' mission was to collect data, including thousands of photographs, of Ultima Thule, a frozen world on the Kuiper belt about one billion miles beyond the farthest known major planet, Neptune.

Scientists believe there should be no rings or moons around Ultima Thule that might endanger New Horizons.

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

A composite of two images taken by New Horizons' high-resolution Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), which provides the best indication of Ultima Thule's size and shape so far.

"We are straining the capabilities of this spacecraft, and by tomorrow we'll know how we did", New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said during the news conference at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland.

Not only was it the first-ever exploration of a small Kuiper Belt object; no other mission has ever targeted to and explored an object that wasn't even discovered when it launched, scientists say.

After zipping past Pluto in 2015, snapping breathtaking photos and revolutionizing our understanding of the dwarf planet, the New Horizons probe has drifted farther and deeper into the solar system.

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The nuclear-powered space probe has travelled 6.4 billion km to come within 3540km of Ultima Thule, an apparently peanut-shaped, 32km-long space rock in the uncharted heart of the Kuiper Belt.

Lead scientist Alan Stern said Monday the team has worked years for this moment and now, "it's happening!"

Since then, over a decade's worth of scientific advancements has helped us to learn more about the Kuiper Belt and the unusual worlds that might inhabit it, but there's no denying that this first up-close brush with an actual Kuiper Belt Object is an unprecedented accomplishment. So they won't know until late morning whether the spacecraft survived.

They'll wait out the final few hours at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, waiting for its closest approach at roughly 12:30 in the morning EST.

"Think about it - we're a billion miles further than Pluto."
An answer should be forthcoming Wednesday, once new and better pictures arrive. It was also used to create the star catalog that calibrated Hubble images of the object, CFHT representatives say, which has allowed for New Horizons to change its course correctly in order to observe Ultima Thule.

Initial flyby data has also revealed our first discovery about Ultima Thule, showing that it is spinning like a propeller, with its axis pointing approximately towards New Horizons. "There are no second chances for New Horizons".

It was initially believed that Ultima Thule was a "binary" minor planet which consisted of two bodies locked in orbit around each other.

The rendezvous, some four billion miles from Earth, marked a historic fly-by in an attempt to map the most distant, most primitive cosmic body ever explored by mankind. He noted it took 12 years to sell the project, five years to build it and nine years to reach the first target, Pluto.

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