NASA Makes Space History With Distant Fly-By

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption Alan Stern

It was discovered in 2014 with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, and is believed to be 12-20 miles in size. There was a brief delay as the mission operations manager, Alice Bowman (MOM to the team) waited for the signal from the ground station in Madrid to confirm that all is well.

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

An artist's conception of what Ultima Thule might look like. Not only is Ultima Thule the most distant planetary object ever explored, it is also likely the most primitive. "This is exploration at its finest", said Adam L. Hamilton, president and CEO of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, in a statement.

The image revealed that the object appears to have a bowling pin-like shape, elongated and spinning like a propeller.

Just like there is an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where there are bands of rocky/icy objects orbiting the Sun, there is a similar (but far wider) band of (generally) larger objects out beyond Neptune. An answer should be forthcoming on Wednesday, once new and better pictures arrive.

"We've never, in the history of spaceflight, gone to a target that we know less about", Stern added.

"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.

With Ultima Thule keeping its secrets right up until the last moment, it seems, there's really no telling exactly what New Horizons will find as it whizzes past tonight.

When the spacecraft was finally declared healthy and the flyby successful, scientists and other team members embraced, while hundreds of others gave a standing ovation. That data includes high-resolution images of Ultima Thule and spectra that can provide information about its composition. For more updates, follow NASA New Horizons' Twitter account here. "This is what leadership in space exploration is all about".

A Nasa spacecraft has performed a flyby of the most distant, and very possibly the most ancient, object ever watched by mankind.

It is located in the Kuiper Belt, a huge asteroid belt that surrounds our solar system and contains the leftovers of the system's formation. The craft is now so far from Earth that it takes six hours and eight minutes to receive a command from Earth.

That makes Ultima different from Pluto, which was New Horizons' primary target back in 2015. Until then, no one had ever seen a Kuiper belt object as anything more than a pixel of light.

When the probe was launched in 2006 it had two goals. "We hardly know anything about it", says Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, at APL.

The object was previously known as 2014 MU69. "So stay tuned. There are no second chances for New Horizons".

Thule was a mythical island on medieval maps, thought to be the northernmost point on Earth. In March 2018, NASA called it Ultima Thule, which means "The Edge of the World", on the basis of Internet voting.

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