NASA’s unmanned New Horizons spacecraft, now zooming into outer space beyond Pluto, will fly by a small space rock known as Ultima Thule on New Year’s Day.
The flyby will “provide NASA researchers with valuable images and science data of a world we know practically nothing about,” according to CNet. If successful, it will be the most distant flyby in human history, at about 4 billion miles from Earth.
“New Horizons will map Ultima, determine how many moons it has and find out if it has rings or even an atmosphere, ” said the mission’s principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute. “It will make other studies, too, such as measuring Ultima’s temperature and perhaps even its mass. In the space of one 72-hour period, Ultima will be transformed from a pinpoint of light – a dot in the distance – to a fully explored world. It should be breathtaking!” Stern said.
With the inelegant official name of “2014 MU69,” Ultima Thule was first discovered in 2014 by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope. Scientists believe it’s an ancient relic of the formation of our solar system, the Planetary Society said.
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