New Horizons Spaceship Encounters Ultima Thule, the World Awaits Historic Photo

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The US space agency planned to ring in the New Year with a live online broadcast to mark the spacecraft´s zoom past the mysterious object located about four billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away in a dark and frigid region of space known as the Kuiper Belt. Talks and presentations by members of the mission team will begin today at 2:00 p.m. EST.

NASA will also provide updates about another spacecraft, called OSIRIS-REx, that will enter orbit around the asteroid Bennu on New Year's Eve, Bridenstine said.

He described the New Horizons spaceship as an "amazing piece of American workmanship, operating essentially flawlessly in space for well over a decade". To me, it epitomizes the human spirit's unceasing desire to understand the universe we inhabit.

The New Horizons spacecraft flew by Ultima Thule at a distance of 3,500 km.

As people are ringing in the new year on Earth, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will be conducting a flyby of Ultima Thule, a Kuiper Belt object more than 4 billion miles away.

It is noted that the image from several frames are subjected to processing, can be seen the elongated body, the length of which is approximately two times greater than the width, however, whether a single object or a double system is unclear. The object appears to be irregularly shaped, about 20 to 30 kilometers in diameter, and tinted red. "To have the chance to lead this from the inception through design and build and flight across the solar system, and now to our capstone in the Kuiper Belt, is the product of a lifetime, and it's something that dreams are made of".

The first signal back to Earth should come about 10 hours after the flyby, around 9:45 am (1445 GMT).

New Horizons left Earth in January 2006; it was the first mission created to explore the most distant part of the solar system. The New Horizons mission was extended in 2016 to visit this Kuiper Belt object. Everyone who has devoted so much energy to this mission since its launch in January 2006 will be feeling they are actually inside that small but intrepid vehicle - only about the size of a grand piano - as it pulls off another spectacular close encounter.

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Whether Ultima's surface is heavily cratered and if it has a rich surface geology - like that of Pluto - remains to be seen.

The NASA spacecraft that yielded the first close-up views of Pluto opened the new year at an even more distant world. "Seeing what the surface is going to look like up close is just going to be wonderful!"

Thule was a mythical island on medieval maps, thought to be the most northern point on Earth. Tonight, some billion miles later, it will encounter a pristine world known as 2014 MU69, dubbed Ultima Thule (pronounced "ultima too-lee"). He'll be debuting his new song "New Horizons" during the event.

"Really, we have no idea what to expect", Alan Stern, principal investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission, said during a recent news conference.

FILE - This composite image made available by NASA shows the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed "Ultima Thule," indicated by the crosshairs at center, with stars surrounding it on August 16, 2018, made by the New Horizons spacecraft.

The crowd ushered in 2019 at midnight, then cheered again 33 minutes later, the appointed time for New Horizons' closest approach to Ultima Thule.

"There's nothing more exciting in the world of exploration than going to a place about which we know nothing", May said. Though nerve-wracking for engineers, encounter mode ensures that New Horizons makes the most of its brief time near Ultima Thule.

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