NEW HORIZONS MAKES HISTORIC FLYBY OF ULTIMA THULE
On January 1st, 2019, the New Horizons spacecraft flew over the most distant celestial object ever studied by humans and considered a relic of the beginnings of the solar system.
As the world celebrated the start of 2019, scientists with NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft partied with them. But the bigger celebration came just over 30 minutes later, when New Horizons made history with the flyby of Ultima Thule, a mysterious object 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth in the Kuiper Belt. It’s the second rendezvous for New Horizons, which visited Pluto in July 2015.
New Horizons flew by Ultima Thule at 12:33 a.m. EST (0533 GMT), hurtling past at a mind-boggling 32,000 mph (51,500 km/h) as it captured the first close-up views of a Kuiper Belt object.
Discovered in 2014 by the Hubble Space Telescope, Ultima Thule is a large frozen rock, a relic from the beginnings of the solar system, which was named after a distant island of medieval literature.
“It’s the frontier of astronomy,” says scientist Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University, “We have reached the limits of the solar system. These things have been there from the beginning and we think they have not changed. We will check.”
NASA launched the $700 million nuclear-powered spacecraft in January 2006 on a mission originally aimed at Pluto. That mission was an astounding success, with New Horizons zipping by Pluto and its five moons on July 14, 2015, revealing the first-ever detailed photos of the dwarf planet.
There are currently 4 spacecrafts traveling to the confines of the solar system: Voyager 1 and 2, Pioneer 10 and 11 and New Horizons
Launched in April 1973 and earth’s farthest spacecraft, Voyagere 1 officially entered interstellar space in August 2012, almost 35 years after its voyage began. Since flying past the solar system’s boundary into interstellar space, Voyager 1 sent back valuable information about conditions in this zone of the universe. (Source: space.com – Image: NASA)