NASA's New Horizons Begins Countdown to Ultima Thule Flyby

NASA's New Horizons Begins Countdown to Ultima Thule Flyby

Because of the long distance from Earth, scientists didn't know how the flyby went until several hours after the rendezvous.

New Horizons successfully "phoned home" at 10:28 a.m. EST, letting NASA scientists know it survived the flyby of Ultima Thule.

Mission operations manager Alice Bowman added: "The spacecraft is healthy and we're excited!"

"This science will help us understand the origins of our solar system".

At a news conference later today, the science team will share results that New Horizons sent back before its closest approach to Ultima.

An artist's conception of what Ultima Thule might look like. A single body is more likely, they noted. "This is exploration at its finest", said Adam L. Hamilton, president and CEO of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, in a statement.

Capturing good images of the object could be tricky, as well. A version of the image with superimposed lines shows where stars blinked out as they passed behind Ultima Thule, and two red circles indicate how Ultima Thule would be oriented if it is really a pair of objects.

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 Wednesday, once new and better pictures arrive.

"The data we have look fantastic, and we're already learning about Ultima from up close", Stern said.

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"It's the first glimpse of what's going to get rapidly better from here on - it's our first taste", Spencer said.

A solo track recorded by legendary Queen guitarist Brian May - who also holds an advanced degree in astrophysics - was being released to accompany a video simulation as Nasa commentators described the close pass. He's particularly interested in stereo imaging for this leg of the mission.

Now, New Horizons will beam the first information and images from this close flyby back to Earth.

"Ultima Thule is 17,000 times as far away as the "giant leap" of Apollo's lunar missions", Stern noted in an opinion piece in the New York Times. A processed version of the raw photo shows the object as an elongated blob.

"Congratulations to NASA's New Horizons team, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Southwest Research Institute for making history yet again".

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 U.S. space agency said on Tuesday. "This is what leadership in space exploration is all about". Ultima Thule's birthplace is important to scientists, because it's a historic part of the solar system and its temperature is barely above absolute zero, which is why it has a chilly appearance.

The NASA spacecraft that yielded the first close-up views of Pluto opened the new year at an even more distant world.

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.

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