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NASA's New Horizons to reach most distant object on New Year's eve
NASA will collect important data to understand the solar system better.
While we welcome the new year on our planet, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will enter the new year with a flyby of a very distant body in our solar system. In 2015, the spacecraft gave the world a glimpse of Pluto, and ever since, it's moving towards a distant Kuiper Belt called the Ultima Thule.
On the very first day of 2019, the New Horizons will reach Ultima Thule, where it will capture detailed images and collect useful data as a part of the most distant exploration of a space object till date. The spacecraft will come within 2200 miles of Ultima Thule, a tiny object around 19 miles wide and over 4 billion miles away from Earth.
The scientists believe that Ultima can provide clues about the formation of dwarf planets like Pluto and also help understand how the solar system was a billion years ago. Since Ultima is very far from the Sun, it's quite cold. It could be something around 35 degrees Kelvin over absolute zero. At this temperature, it's likely that Ultima hasn't changed much over time.
The #NewHorizons spacecraft is on final approach to #UltimaThule! Lots happening to get ready for our historic #NYE19 flyby in the #KuiperBelt. Get the latest from Mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern in this new blog post --> https://t.co/yDyVDmo4bf pic.twitter.com/cGjYCbaR6Q— NASA New Horizons (@NASANewHorizons) December 20, 2018
"Because of where it was formed and the fact that Ultima is not large enough to have a geologic engine like Pluto and larger planets, we expect that Ultima is the most well-preserved sample of a planetary building block ever explored," NASA's Alan Stern said in a blog post.
"What will Ultima reveal? No one knows," Stern wrote. "To me, that is what's most exciting -- this is pure exploration and fundamental science! The only prediction I made at Pluto is we'd find something wonderful, and we did," he said. "I think the fun of this is we don't know what we're going to see."
New Horizons snapped the first image of Ultima in August this year, and the images that will be captured will give a closer look at the small Kuiper Belt object.
The data that will be sent back will take around six hours to reach Earth and Stern says that the images will be ready for release by January 2nd.
"The Ultima Thule flyby is going to be fast, it's going to be challenging and it's going to yield new knowledge," wrote Stern. "Being the most distant exploration of anything in history, it's also going to be historic."