New Horizons meets Ultima Thule tonight

The spacecraft captured stunning images of Pluto when it flew by the dwarf planet in 2015

United States space probe New Horizons flew past 2014 MU69 Ultima Thule asteroid at the very edge of the solar system, making it the farthest from the Earth ever visited by a probe from our planet, NASA said on Tuesday. The broadcast will start with scientific lectures at 8 p.m. He's particularly interested in stereo imaging for this leg of the mission. Mission team members and New Horizons' fans, plus family members, noshed on hors d'oeuvres and watched presentations and performances (including a sing-along in New Horizons' honor) during the buildup to 12:33 a.m. ET (9:33 p.m. PT Dec. 31).

"This mission represents to me the spirit of adventure, discovery and inquiry which is inherent in the human spirit", May said during the countdown to the flyby.

It is one of the oldest asteroids known to NASA, and scientists hope it will reveal more about the early formation of the solar system.

Since the spacecraft is so far from Earth, the Ultima Thule flyby is very challenging for NASA engineers.

Ultima lies 1 billion miles beyond Pluto, in a ring of icy worlds known as the Kuiper Belt. The object appears to be irregularly shaped, about 20 to 30 kilometers in diameter, and tinted red. These bodies are time capsules, preserved in a deep freeze for the past 4.6 billion years. The craft is now so far from Earth that it takes six hours and eight minutes to receive a command sent from Earth.

The first images will be published later today and are expected to solve a key question about the far-off object, which is floating in a cloud of comets, asteroids and dwarf planets called the Kuiper Belt. NASA launched the probe in 2006; it's about the size of a baby grand piano.

It's hard to know the exact location of the object, although NASA published several graphical representations of the New Horizons' trajectory through the Kuiper Belt. The object was subsequently designated 2014 MU69, given the minor planet number 485968.

Currently, there are no major hindrances between Ultima Thule and New Horizon.

Thule was a mythical island on medieval maps, thought to be the most northern point on Earth. Its name means "distant places beyond the known world". It's fitting, considering New Horizons' pioneering journey.

"We'll get to the bottom of this puzzle soon", Dr. Alan Stern, principle investigator of the New Horizons mission, told Digital Trends. We will only know what Ultima Thule's surface looks like once New Horizons has sent back the first pictures after it has flown by, although based on observations of similar-sized Solar System objects, it will nearly certainly display impact craters And this is what is really exciting - We will get a chance to study the earliest history of the solar system and its planets. Now, it is heading towards the edge of the solar system and will shortly reach Ultima Thule, where it will complete a historic flyby. "Also by counting the number and impactors that have hit Ultima Thule, we can learn about the number of small objects in the outer Solar System". "Thinking about the scale and magnitude of the exploration we're conducting, and I would say people are close to climbing the walls with anticipation".

New Horizons has crept closer to Ultima Thule over the last three months and began sending back hundreds of photos about the area.

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