On New Year’s Day the New Horizons spacecraft will flyby Ultima Thule. Previously it brought Pluto closer to us and closer to our hearts. Now it continues to explore the Kuiper Belt. This is cool indeed.
Ultima Thule, not just any rock
Ultima Thule is not just any rock hidden in the Kuiper Belt. It’s carefully chosen while New Horizons has long flown by Pluto. Scientists still don’t know whether it’s just one rock, or two closely orbiting each other. 2014 MU64, as the object was formerly known, will be the most primitive world ever observed from up close. And this could tell us a lot about our own world, Earth, as well.
As we have seen with the Pluto flyby, LORRI is able to take breathtaking images. LORRI stands for Long Range Reconnaissance Imager and is a telescopic camera. New Horizons will flyby closer than it has by Pluto and Ultima Thule is smaller than the planet. The expectations are high. But due to the incredible distant we may have to wait until January 2 or even January 3 for the first images to emerge. Data will take at least 6 hours to reach Earth. And this needs to be sorted and filtered.
Keep on giving
New Horizons will try to gain as much info as possible in the few seconds it flies by Ultima Thule. It will take more than a year for all the information to be downloaded. The spacecraft will then long be on its way to perhaps yet another target. This is yet to be decided. As long New Horizon has fuel, it runs on plutonium actually, it will be able to explore more.
It makes New Horizons the gift that keeps on giving. The Pluto flyby alone exceeded all the expectations. The data gathered from that encounter is still leaving scientists amazed every day. It has re-opened the debate whether Pluto is a planet or not. This is not just because people melted when Pluto showed its heart (named the Thombaugh region, named after Pluto’s discoverer). New Horizons showed that Pluto is a very active world and ticks every box it needs in order to be a real planet. Except it just hasn’t cleared its orbit.
A great start of 2019
Data gathering and photo taking aside, this flyby will be historic. We’ve never seen a world from so close by ever before. No spacecraft has ever done this. The Kuiper Belt can be seen as a collection of rocks that failed to make it into a planet. It could very well tell us more on how our solar system was formed and perhaps even how life made it to our planet.
2019 will have a great start for all space fans. The Ultima Thule flyby will be the perfect start of an amazing year in space. Not bad for a mission that nearly didn’t even see the light of day. It now shows us the edges of our solar system. And that is indeed cool.
I’m wishing everyone on the New Horizons team the best of luck during this flyby. And thank you for never giving up on this mission. It’s been all worth it. And the end is yet not in sight!