Sci-tech

NASA Tracking Flyby Of Most Distant Space Expedition In Human History

NASA Tracking Flyby Of Most Distant Space Expedition In Human History

Scientists believe that objects like Ultima located in the Kuiper belt, a band of frozen material that orbits the Sun far beyond even the dwarf planet Pluto, hold clues to the formation conditions of the Solar System 4.6 billion years ago.

"Never before has a spacecraft explored something so far away".

In addition to the webcast, Alan Stern and the rest of the New Horizons mission team continues to answer questions from the public in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) forum. "This flyby marks a first for all of us - APL, NASA, the nation and the world - and it is a great credit to the bold team of scientists and engineers who brought us to this point".

Wherever we've explored in the Solar System, we've found the unexpected.

A few black-and-white pictures of Ultima Thule might be available following Tuesday's official confirmation, but the highly anticipated close-ups won't be ready until Wednesday or Thursday, in colour, it is hoped. A single body is more likely, they noted.

In this case, the probe will literally sweep past Ultima Thule at a speed of 32,000 miles per hour (51,000 kilometers per hour or about 14.6 kilometers per second). With most other objects, these light patterns repeat as the objects spin. The object appears to be irregularly shaped, about 20 to 30 kilometers in diameter, and tinted red.

"We have a healthy spacecraft", Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman said.

"This is just a first glimpse of what is rapidly going to get better from here on out, " Spencer said.

Queen guitarist Brian May, who also happens to be an astrophysicist, joined the team at Johns Hopkins for a midnight premiere of the song he wrote for the big event. He's particularly interested in stereo imaging for this leg of the mission.

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The first day of the new year has already delivered on a historic moment in science.

News of the successful flyby was met with jubilation at Mission Control. The instruments on New Horizons will create geologic and compositional maps of Ultima Thule, as well as searching for any rings, debris, or even small satellites orbiting the object. "This is what leadership in space exploration is all about".

The object is so old and pristine that it's essentially like going back in time to the beginning of our solar system.

An unmanned NASA spacecraft has sent a signal back to Earth that it has successfully made it through a risky flyby past the most distant planetary object ever studied, the United States space agency said on Tuesday. "To have the chance to lead this from the inception through design and build and flight across the solar system, and now to our capstone in the Kuiper Belt, is the product of a lifetime, and it's something that dreams are made of". The craft is now so far from Earth that it takes six hours and eight minutes to receive a command from Earth.

The New Horizons mission was extended in 2016 to visit this Kuiper Belt object.

That makes Ultima different from Pluto, which was New Horizons' primary target back in 2015.

The spacecraft passed within 2,200 miles of the large asteroid at 12:33 a.m. EST Tuesday, not long after the ball dropped in New York Times Square.

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 unusual metal asteroid called Psyche and to the trojan asteroids that share an orbit with Jupiter.