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NASA New Horizons photographs Ultima Thule in a historic New Year's Eve

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An artist's impression of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft that meets Ultima Thule (2014 MU69), a Kuiper Belt facility that circles about a billion miles off Pluto on January 1, 2019.

NASA / Laboratory for Applied Physics at Johns Hopkins University / Southwest Research Institute / Steve Gribben

NASA Aircraft New Horizons will explore far-away worlds than ever before passing 2014 MU69 in the early hours of the New Year.

The boat has been gradually approaching the last two weeks as NASA scientists conducted a series of trajectory checks and corrections to ensure that New Horizons are on the right track to gather as much information as possible about the mysterious facility – nickname Ultima Thule – without hitting any residuals in the outer part of our solar system.

"This last day was probably the most intense for us," said Alice Bowman, the New Horizons mission manager at APL, for CNET's sister site CBS News. "These optical navigation measurements have dropped far closer together, which means that most of the team was awake all night."

He also said the aircraft would go within 19 miles of its target. It's about 2,200 miles from the facility.

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On December 15th, 12 researchers making the New Horizons Detection Team confirmed that the access road was safe with the New Horizons Telescopic Broadband (LORRI). If they did had discovering moons or rings near the Ultimate, NASA would decide on a secondary flight path, correcting the New Horizon course, and flying next to a much larger facility.

As the New Horizons approach, Ultima Thule becomes lighter and brighter. Soon the aircraft will fly beside the mysterious facility at a distance of 2,200 miles from its surface.

NASA / Johns Hopkins Laboratory for Applied Physics / Southwest Research Laboratory / Henry Throop

"The team was in full agreement that the spacecraft should remain on the road, and the mission leadership has adopted our recommendation," said Mark Showalter, head of the danger team.

As it stands, the New Horizons will slip Ultima Thule from a distance of 3,500 kilometers (about 2,200 miles) – its optimal path. To put it in perspective, remember those epic images of Pluto? The New Horizons cameras captured them as he flew from 12,500 kilometers (about 7,800 miles) from the distant planet's dwarf planet.

So the New Horizons will approach the Ultima Thule three times to Pluto and provide NASA researchers with valuable images and scientific information about the world we do not know practically.

On December 26, New Horizons entered Encounter Mode, a type of "safe mode of operation" that ensures that the mission objectives are pursued even if the aircraft is broken. Under normal circumstances, the malfunction looks at the New Horizons home phone call for help, but because it now lasts for 12 hours, it's risky to do when the spacecraft is in close proximity.

Conveniently, entering Encounter Mode means the spacecraft itself. With the thousands of instructions entered into his computers, he began his sensitive dance, one billionth of Pluto.

Two days before we left the New Horizons on their own devices, she captured the image of the highest resolution of the distant "worldlet" yet: dark, pixelated blur shows Ultima Thule at its center, 10 million miles away. .


The New Horizons finds Ultima Thule (rounded up) on the high resolution picture taken by LORRI on December 24th.

NASA / Johns Hopkins Laboratory for Applied Physics / Southwest Research Institute

Within a week, that tiny pixel of light in the distance will become a world known. We'll see how it looks, what it's made, how cold it is, its mass and whether it has its own moons.

The New Horizons will literally ring in the New Year passing the most remote world we've ever explored, and the closest approach should take place at 12:33 PM ET on January 1st. You are currently closing the federal government, you will still be able to capture live reactions and simulations on the New Horizons mission site. Flight data and images are expected later on in the New Year, somewhere after 11:30 ET.

After a year of great news, The New Horizons will, hopefully, put 2019 on the right track, so I suggest you hit the interstellar music podium at Silvestrovo, settle down and admire the new world we will discover.

First published on December 26 at 16:23 pm PT
Update, December 27, 6:35 pm PT: He adds that the New Horizons went to Encounter Mode and was on the right track for their historic flight.
Update, December 31, 8:55 pm PT: Add comments to the manager of the APL mission operations.

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