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Ultima Thule, Here we come

Whatever you do for your New Year's party, it will not be as cool as New Horizons. On New Year's Day, the space probe precisely seeks near an object in the Kuiper belt named 2014 MU69 – the nickname Ultima Thule. This will make Ultima Thule the longest solar system object to be visited by a spacecraft (Voyager probe's final meetings were with Saturn for Voyager 1 and Neptune for Voyager 2). New horizons have mostly been napping after leaving Pluto behind nearly three and a half years ago, July 2015. Since then, it has traveled a distance of almost a billion miles, and that's quite a lot on schedule. An exact date for the airport was not possible until recently, for NASA researchers had no idea what dangers existed in the space around the object. New Horizons sent back their first pictures of Ultima Thule in August and since then a team has worked to map these dangers so they could do the best to avoid them &#821 1; at breakback speeds of 50,700 kilometers per hour (31,500 miles per hour), even a small impact can destroy spacecraft. And they can not just take the first person's control of New Horizons swinging obstacles that you would do in a sci-fi space plan. They need to know in advance what they are dealing with, as communication with the probe is extremely slow. At the time of writing, New Horizons 44.10 astronomical units from Earth – or around 6.11 light hours.…

Whatever you do for your New Year’s party, it will not be as cool as New Horizons. On New Year’s Day, the space probe precisely seeks near an object in the Kuiper belt named 2014 MU69 – the nickname Ultima Thule.

This will make Ultima Thule the longest solar system object to be visited by a spacecraft (Voyager probe’s final meetings were with Saturn for Voyager 1 and Neptune for Voyager 2).

New horizons have mostly been napping after leaving Pluto behind nearly three and a half years ago, July 2015. Since then, it has traveled a distance of almost a billion miles, and that’s quite a lot on schedule.

An exact date for the airport was not possible until recently, for NASA researchers had no idea what dangers existed in the space around the object.

New Horizons sent back their first pictures of Ultima Thule in August and since then a team has worked to map these dangers so they could do the best to avoid them &#821

1; at breakback speeds of 50,700 kilometers per hour (31,500 miles per hour), even a small impact can destroy spacecraft.

And they can not just take the first person’s control of New Horizons swinging obstacles that you would do in a sci-fi space plan. They need to know in advance what they are dealing with, as communication with the probe is extremely slow.

At the time of writing, New Horizons 44.10 astronomical units from Earth – or around 6.11 light hours. This means that even though radio waves travel at lightning speed, they still take over 6 hours to reach the probe.

 lorri new horizons ultima thule Composed of hundreds of images shot by LORRI. (NASA / Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute)

But, of course, the New Horizons- now make sure what’s in the room around Ultima Thule with Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), and there are no dangers like moons or rings that will stop the journey.

New Horizons will travel along a pretty straight line and will reconstruct with Ultima Thule at a distance of just 3,500 kilometers (2 200 miles).

If it had to be detoured, its airfield would have been a much greater distance, and would show Ultima Thule in less detail. The image above shows the two aerodrome distances. The yellow dot in the middle is Ultima Thule, and X marks the perfect airfield distance. The larger circle is the aviation distance that would have been used if dangers were detected.

“Our team feels like riding together with the spacecraft, as if we were marching up at the hustle and bustle of a ship and looking forward to dangers ahead,” says Mark Showalter, Risk Management Team from the SETI Institute.

“The team agreed that the spacecraft would remain on the next track and the mission leadership adopted our recommendation.”

So what is Ultima Thule (pronounced thoo-lee)? Although its name is strange reminiscent of Conan, the barbarian villain Thulsa Doom, the meaning is actually very nerd.

Thule was a mythical island that appeared in the north on medieval maps; The name means “beyond Thule”, or beyond the limits of our known sphere.

What we know is that it’s an irregular piece of rock in Asteroid’s Kuiper belt. There are either two asteroids that are joined, or one very close binary, with one measuring about 20 kilometers over, and the other 18 kilometers over (12 and 11 miles). It has a reddish hue and takes over 296 years to complete an entire ball of the sun.

Next Horizons closest approach comes shortly after midnight, at 00:33 EST, and it is expected that it will answer some of the burning issues we have about Ultima Thule. What is that exactly? What does it look like? What makes it red? What is its surface composition? And does it have methane or ice?

When these questions are answered, the team selects a formally permanent name to submit to IAU. But for now everyone is strengthened for the historic airport.

“The spacecraft is now focusing on the optimal flight change, more than three times closer than we flew to Pluto,” says New Horizon’s main researcher Alan Stern. “Ultima, here we come!”

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