While you're ringing in the New Year's Eve on Monday, you can also track how NASA sends spacecraft flying by zooming on a tiny rock of 4.1 billion miles from Earth. The "New Horizons" Space Agency's probe, which flew over Pluto in 2015, will now pass next to another facility – the kind of space rock we've never been to before. And everything happens just when we enter 2019.
As with Pluto's flips, the New Horizons mission team was assembled at John Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, where he will accompany the aircraft from the Mission's Operations Center. Live transmissions will show what team is doing before and during the flight, and mission scientists will host the press conference to provide the latest information on what New Horizons is doing.
Since the United States is currently in the middle of a partial shutdown of the government, there has been some confusion about how the public could track this record-breaking event. NASA is one of the federal agencies affected by the imprisonment, so its "unskilled employees" are strengthened. This includes NASA's Public Affairs team. For some time people feared that NASA will not be able to broadcast event footage on their dedicated channel, NASA TV, or update social media accounts.
"Ironically, NASA is working on the widest research in its history, and their hands are tied to their backs by being caught in the government's closure," says Alan Stern, chief investigator of the New Horizons mission. The Verge, "We have a breakdown procedure for almost everything, but we did not think about the failure procedure for a government that is going down during the break."
However, in the last minute of victory, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine posted on Twitter to events want be displayed on NASA's television and the space agency will inform the public about the mission with its social media accounts. If all goes well, NASA TV will broadcast live online for both airline and press conferences. Meanwhile, John Hopkins has not been hit by the closure and plans to show live events on his YouTube page live. The University also lists the list of links to be followed on its website.
As for the flight schedule, things begin on December 31, with a press briefing at 2 pm ET. Then at the 12:33 ET on January 1st, some celebrations will take place in the Mission's mission operations to honor the event. But at that time we did not know if everything went well. Radio communications from the spacecraft last about six hours to reach Earth, and the New Horizons will not send the signal back to Earth until a few hours after crossing the end of the rock, called Ultima Thule. So, somewhere between 9:45 and 10:45 ET, this mission needs to receive that signal that confirms success.
Shortly after that confirmation, the New Horizon team will hold a press conference and show some of the pictures the aircraft made before flying. These pictures will still be unclear because of the distance of the vehicle from the facility. But after receiving the flight signal, the New Horizons will begin sending their data to Earth so we should receive the first images of the high resolution of the space rock on January 2nd.
When New Horizons makes a flight, it will be away from an object such as New York from LA. From that distance, Ultima Thule will appear as a huge full moon in the sky here on Earth. But New Horizons has several high-precision telescopes on board, so we should get some detailed close-up photographs, similar to Moon images captured by powerful telescopes on the ground. "It's an awkward picture, made very quickly in a critical time," Stern says. "If that works, we will have images that are much more detailed than Pluto."
It will take a long time to collect all the fruits of the flight. The New Horizons will spend up to 20 months of all the links it collects on the New Year. So, expect that you will get some amazing pictures in the first week – then after many months.