An artist’s rendering of the New Horizons spacecraft.


Whilst you’re washing the glitter out of your hair and attempting to chase away that post-New Yr’s Eve headache, NASA’s New Horizons mission will spend the primary day of the 12 months exploring farther out within the photo voltaic system than we have ever explored earlier than.

New Horizons is NASA’s mission to discover the outer reaches of the photo voltaic system and study in regards to the origins of its formation. Launched in January 2006, the spacecraft has travelled billions of miles, previous Pluto and into the ring of icy our bodies known as the Kuiper Belt that is roughly a billion miles past the orbit of Neptune. (The Kuiper Belt extends between 30 and 55 astronomical models from the solar. An AU is the gap between Earth and the solar.)

On this week’s episode of Watch This House, we check out New Horizons’ mission targets, and what scientists hope to study from one explicit icy, area rock: the Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) often called 2014 MU69, or Ultima Thule.

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New Horizons is not precisely new

The area probe has traveled roughly Four billion miles since its launch. It made headlines in 2015 when it did the first ever flyby of Pluto, sending again superbly detailed photographs of the ice dwarf’s floor and giving us the closest-ever have a look at the previous ninth planet of the photo voltaic system.


Pluto as seen in an enhanced coloration view from NASA’s New Horizons.


The place is New Horizons going?

Within the early hours of Jan. 1, 2019, New Horizons will fly by Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69. The icy physique is 100 instances smaller than Pluto and is roughly 46 astronomical models from the solar at its farthest level. It was found by the Hubble Telescope in 2014 (therefore the 12 months in its title) however NASA gave it the nickname Ultima Thule after a public vote. Ultima Thule means “past the borders of the recognized world,” which is a becoming description of an object orbiting 1 billion miles past Pluto.

New Horizons is exploring the very edges of our photo voltaic system.

NASA/Johns Hopkins College Utilized Physics Laboratory/Southwest Analysis Institute

We have been right here earlier than, proper?

NASA has definitely been by means of the Kuiper Belt earlier than. The area company’s twin Voyager area probes handed by means of the icy ring on the fringe of the photo voltaic system within the ’90s on their means out to deep area. However we did not know in regards to the Kuiper Belt till 1992 and by that point, in accordance with New Horizon’s principal investigator Alan Stern, Voyager 2 was deep inside it and Voyager 1 was nearly all the best way throughout. With New Horizons, NASA is getting up shut and private to actually discover the area in depth. 


This artist’s idea exhibits one chance for the form of Ultima Thule. 


What’s going to Ultima Thule train us?

We do not know a lot about Ultima Thule now. For instance, we do not know if it has rings, an environment or moons. In truth, we do not even know whether or not it is one or two objects. However NASA believes the area rock was fashioned between 4.5 billion and 4.6 billion years in the past and has been hanging out in circumstances approaching absolute zero since then. Meaning it may make clear the formation of the photo voltaic system and the way all of us obtained right here from our humble photo voltaic nebula beginnings.

What’s subsequent?

Earlier than the flyby, you possibly can signal as much as beam a greeting, alongside your title, to New Horizons when it reaches its vacation spot. And you may keep updated with the newest information by means of the New Horizons’ Twitter feed

And after the flyby? NASA will wait to get information again from New Horizons (it is presently a couple of 12-hour spherical journey for communications, in accordance with Venture Supervisor Helene Winters) to seek out out about its floor composition, environment, temperature and extra. And from there, the New Horizons group has set its sights on discovering one other KBO to map even additional out. 

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