NASA Spaceship Closes in on Distant World

Quebec's Pelletier leads 'farthest exploration of any planetary body in history'

Quebec's Pelletier leads 'farthest exploration of any planetary body in history'

Four billion miles from Earth, it will be the farthest object explored in history. Yet on New Year's Day, it will meet another object on the edge of the Solar System - a rock nicknamed Ultima Thule, located 1 billion miles beyond Pluto, the Verge reported. No spacecraft has visited anything so primitive.

New Horizons is moving through space at 31,500 miles per hour, and it has one chance to get it right as it zips past the object.

NASA's New Horizon is about to boldly go where no spacecraft has gone before.

What do we know about Ultima Thule?

"Ultima is quite mysterious".

"We expect to have an image with nearly 10,000 pixels on Ultima ready for release on January 2", Dr Stern said. "The approach will help us determine what the actual shape of the object is".

"That 0.26 meter/second burn lasted only 27 seconds and was executed perfectly by the spacecraft, cancelling about 300 kilometers (180 miles) of estimated targeting error and speeding up our arrival time by about five seconds", NASA said in a statement.

Special cameras created to shoot in low-light at high speeds, along with spectrometers and other instruments - some designed and built in San Antonio - will capture information about Ultima Thule's actual shape, and whether or not it has rings, a moon or an atmosphere.

"By that first week of January we expect to have even better images and a good idea of whether Ultima has satellites, rings or an atmosphere".

NASA has calculated New Horizons will flyby at 5.33am GMT (00.33 EST) on Saturday, January 1.

NASA's unmanned New Horizons spacecraft is closing its memorable New Year's flyby target, the most distant world at any point examined, a frozen relic of the nearby solar system some 6.4 billion kilometers away.

Pelletier has worked on a number of other space missions, including the voyage the Cassini spacecraft took to Saturn, and he also participated in the Mars Curiosity landing.

Communicating with a spacecraft that is so far away takes six hours and eight minutes each way - or about 12 hours and 15 minutes round trip. "The only prediction I made at Pluto is we'd find something wonderful, and we did", he said. Compensating for that somewhat is that the dim sunlight in the Kuiper Belt left it past the "snow line" for a variety of gasses, meaning those gasses froze out to form particles.

Ultima Thule is just one of thousands of objects that call the Kuiper Belt home, ranging from dwarf planets to comets. It is much smaller than Pluto, but its exact size and shape are unknown.

"We have a pretty good understanding of these worlds". Set for New Year's 2019, New Horizons' exploration of Ultima will be the farthest space probe flyby in history.

FILE - This composite image made available by NASA shows the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed "Ultima Thule", indicated by the crosshairs at center, with stars surrounding it on August 16, 2018, made by the New Horizons spacecraft.

Flying through the densest part of the region, New Horizons will pick up details never imagined by previous missions such as Voyager. "The Kuiper Belt was only discovered in the 1990s".

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