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What you need to know about NASA's New Horizons flyway



NASA will make history on New Year's Day, with the exploration of the farthest objects from Earth ever done.

More than a billion kilometers outside Pluto, the New Horizons spacecraft is on its way to meet a space object known as Ultima Thule, as it passes through the extreme Kuiper belt region in the solar system.

Here's what you need to know about the mission when New Horizons approaches the target:

What is a New Horizon?

Part of NASA's New Frontiers project, the New Horizons vehicle was launched in 2006.

The plane was sent with the aim of exploring Pluto – still considered a planet at the time and the only one not yet explored in the solar system.

After reaching and exploring the dwarf planet and its moon, Charon, in 2015 New Horizons took on a secondary task of exploring the Kuiper belt, which will be fulfilled for the next decade.

Ultima Thule will be the first Kuiper belt object found by New Horizons, with several other objects planned for future observation.

Where is Ultima Thule?

(486958) 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule, is an object found in the Kuiper belt by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014.

Estimated to have a diameter of 30 kilometers, about the size of Washington D.C., the object is more than 6.5 billion kilometers from the earth.

There is a difference in what scientists believe is like Ultima Thule, with estimates based on distance and brightness giving elongated shapes, while light measurements are consistent with those seen from spherical objects.

Experts say Thule is a relic that was preserved 4.5 million years ago, and can provide valuable insight into the ingredients that existed at the beginning of our solar system.

When will the spacecraft fly?

This approach is scheduled for 12:33 east standard time.

This program will be broadcast live on NASA TV and by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

NASA will not know whether New Horizons survived flyby for hours after the purpose of its trip, because of the distance that must be traveled.

If everything goes according to plan, the first picture of Ultima Thule is likely to be released to the world on Tuesday.

Who tested it?

Canadian Frederic Pelletier served as head navigator for spacecraft, leading an eight-person team from Johns Hopkins.

New Horizons will fly with Ultima Thule at a distance of about 3,500 kilometers, with speeds of 50,000 kilometers per hour.

What makes this task more difficult is that it takes a signal six hours from Earth to reach the plane, and another six hours to return.

"When we plan a maneuver to do uplinks and updates, we need to take that into account," Pelletier said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

With files from the Canadian Press


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