NASA prepares for close encounter with Ultima Thule

NASA is preparing for a close encounter with Ultima Thule

Scientists at NASA are preparing for a close flyby near the object Ultima Thule, ktory is located in the Kuiper Belt. It is the most distant part of our solar system, whichor ever explored by humanity. Three close flybys are scheduled for the first day of the new year. During the closest one, the probe will be only 3,500 kilometers awayow of Ultima Thule.

The Ultima Thule object is officially named 2014 MU69. The Latin term Ultima Thule means a place beyond the known world, a mythical land located far out poof midnight marking the end of the world. There’s a reason the object is so named. It is located 44 times farther from the Sun than Earth.

Ultima Thule is about 30 kilometersoin diameter and possibly reddish in color, but beyond that scientists know little about the object. It orbits in the heart of the Kuiper Belt in the outer Solar System, far beyond the orbit of Neptune. Kuiper Belt extends from 30 to about 50 astronomical units (astronomical unit – Astronomical Unit is approximately the distance separating the Earth from our star. About 150 millionoin kilometerso(w) from the Sun. Consists of many ice and rocky objectsoin size from dwarf planets such as Pluto to smaller asteroids such as Ultima Thule and even smaller bodies such as comets or tiny remnants of the Solar System’s formation process.

– The anticipation is now almost tangible. We are on the verge of an important scientific exploration, ktora has been going on for almost 20 years and in many ways roIt differs from any other prob that we have ever undertaken – said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, a majorowny scientist of the New Horizons mission. The scientist added that flight controllers are constantly receiving and analyzing data received from the probe on 2014 MU69. The information will help navigators determine whether they need to update the files on the head of theoin the probe’s computers to make the most of the close flyby. The last chance for an update will be the day before the actual flyby.

Such a distant orbit of Ultima Thule makes the object very interesting for astronomersow. At this distance, the Sun is as bright as the full Moon on Earth, so temperatures are not high either. All this makes the Kuiper Belt objects can be treated, as a kind of time capsules. Unfortunately, the object is poorly visible in all Earth-based telescopes and little is known about it beyond its location and orbit.

Photo. NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

– Our knowledge is about to change radically already in the New Year. The New Horizons probe will map the surface of Ultima Thule, study the composition of the object, determine whether they orbit wokoł some small bodies, whether it has rings, etc. They will also perform other tests, such as measuring the temperature and perhaps even its mass. Within 72 hours, Ultima Thule will be transformed from a small dot, ktorima Thule has so far been viewed in images to a fully explored world. What Ultima Thule will reveal? No one knows. For me, this is the most exciting – it’s pure exploration and basic science – explained Stern.

– The New Horizons probe is making observations at the frontier of planetary science, said Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University. – The entire compositeoł is awaiting the first data of this most distant and pristine object ever studied by a spacecraft flyby – added.

If all poives as planned, the New Horizons probe will be the first-ever mission to explore a small Kuiper Belt object. Ultima Thule will be the most distant and explored planetary body in history. Ultima Thule research will help scientists understand the formation and evolution of our solar system.

The New Horizons probe was launched into space in January 2006. Its purpose was to make measurementsow and the exploration of Pluto and its moonow. This goal was achieved in 2015. The second of the targetsow is to explore one of the objectsow located in the Kuiper Belt, or Ultima Thule.

The end of the mission is scheduled for June 2022, but if the probe is in good condition, the mission can continue. This has happened in many cases. The Opportunity rover was supposed to stay on Mars for three months, and is now 13 years old. Not to mention the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, whichore were supposed to explore Jupiter and Saturn, and is now the most distant and still operational object sent into space by man.

Sourceobackground: NASA, photo. NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute