NASA spacecraft survives flyby of the most distant object ever visited

NASA spacecraft survives flyby of the most distant object ever visited

A NASA spacecraft opens the new year at the most distant world ever explored, a billion miles beyond Pluto.

About 10 hours earlier, NASA celebrated the New Year's flyby, as mission managers - alongside kids dressed in space costumes - blew party horns to mark the moment at 12:33 am (0533 GMT) when the New Horizons spacecraft aimed its cameras at the space rock four billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away in a dark and frigid region of space known as the Kuiper Belt.

On Tuesday, scientists released an image that was taken before the closest point of the approach that revealed Ultima Thule is likely to be a bowling pin-shaped object about 35 kilometres long by 15 kilometres at its widest.

Scientists believe there should be no rings or moons around Ultima Thule that might endanger New Horizons.

Ultima Thule receives only a tiny amount of light from the sun...

NASA is having a successful start to 2019: Its New Horizons spaceship just completed the major Ultima Thule flyby.

As most of America's East Coast counts down toward midnight tonight, ushering in a shiny new year, a group of NASA scientists and their attendant press will instead be counting down to a more spectacular event: the most distant flyby of a planetary object in history.

New Horizons launched in 2006 on a mission to explore Pluto, which it achieved in 2015.

Ultima Thule was discovered in 2014 with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Dr. Stern added that while this week's images should be a dramatic improvement over what is now known about the Kuiper Belt, scientists will not have their best views downloaded until February. This pristine, primordial history should allow scientists to tease out important clues about the history of the Kuiper Belt, the distant and unknown menagerie of objects beyond Neptune, along with insights to the formation and migration of the planets.

"Reaching Ultima Thule from 4 billion miles away is an incredible achievement", Adam Hamilton, president and CEO of the Southwest Research Institute, said in the statement.

Tired from dual countdowns late Monday and early Tuesday, the New Horizons team members were visibly anxious as they reassembled in late morning.

Stephen Gwyn, an astronomer and data specialist with Canada's National Research Council who is participating in the mission, said the image has already solved one mystery: how the oblong-shaped Ultima Thule can rotate without changing its brightness.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft broke a record after successfully entering into orbit around the asteroid Bennu - the smallest cosmic object ever to be orbited by a spacecraft. An answer should be forthcoming Wednesday, once new and better pictures arrive.

The New Horizons mission was extended in 2016 to visit this Kuiper Belt object. "The New Horizons team makes it look easy".

LAUREL, MARYLAND-Cheers erupted just after 10:30 AM Eastern this morning in a small control room at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) here. The object was subsequently designated 2014 MU69, given the minor planet number 485968, and based on public votes, nicknamed Ultima Thule.

'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. He noted it took 12 years to sell the project, five years to build it and nine years to reach the first target, Pluto.

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