NASA's aircraft that brought a first glimpse of Pluto close-up opened a new year in a more distant world.
Flight controllers said that it all seemed good to dump a small ice facility in New Horizons on Tuesday at 12:33. However, the certificate was not expected for hours, given the large distance.
The mysterious, ancient meta named Ultima Thule is 6.5 miles from Earth.
Scientists wanted New Horizons to observe Ultima Thule during the encounter, not to return home. So they had to wait until the late morning before they found out if the aircraft survived.
RIGHT, ~ 1 billion miles of Pluto, @NASANewHorizons Runs the farthest spacecraft of spacecraft as long as it passes #Tule Thule, a frozen, ancient rock in the Kuiper belt. Watch live: https://t.co/oJKHgKpQjH pic.twitter.com/U30yazzigo
With the New Horizons on the autopilot, Mission Control, was empty at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Madrid, instead, hundreds of team members and their guests gathered at the countdown campus.
At midnight, the audience was introduced in 2019, then 33 minutes later, which was the time for the nearest New Horizons Ultima Thule approach.
Several black and white images of Ultima Thule could be available after official confirmation on Tuesday, but the long-awaited big plans will not be ready by Wednesday or Thursday, in color, we hope.
A journey to capture spacecraft
"We've set a record," he said. "Spacecraft never explored anything so far," said the chief scientist of the project that led the countdown to a close encounter, Alan Sterna of the Southwest Research Institute. "Think about it. We're a billion miles away from Pluto."
Stern called it a favorable start in 2019, marking the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's step and Buzz Aldrin on July 1969.
"Ultima Thule is 17,000 times far away from the huge jump of Apollos lunar missions," Stern commented in a New York Times commentary.
It is expected that New Horizons, the size of baby booths and part of the $ 800m US mission, will move at a distance of 3,500 km Ultima Thule, which is much closer than the meeting in Pluto in 2015.
His seven scientific instruments continued to collect data four hours after the break. Then the spacecraft should briefly turn to Earth to pass on the word of its success. It takes more than six hours for radio signals to reach Earth so far away.
Scientists believe that Ultima Thule should not be a ring or satellite that could endanger New Horizons. Traveling at a speed of 50,700 kilometers per hour, the aircraft could easily be cut off from rice-sized particles. It is a harder encounter than at Pluto because of the distance and significant unknowns, and because the spacecraft is now older.
"I can not promise you success. We're expanding the capabilities of this aircraft," Stern told a press conference on Monday. "Tomorrow we will know how we did this, so stay with us." There is no new chance for New Horizons. "
The risk contributed to the excitement.
Icon of rokenrola
Queen Guitarist Brian May, who is also an astrophysicist, joined the team of John Hopkins for the premiere of the song he wrote for a great event.
"We will never forget this moment," said May, who led the countdown to the New Year. "This is a completely unknown territory."
Despite the closure of the government, several scientists and other NASA employees appeared in Johns Hopkins as private citizens, not wanting to miss the emerging history.
Ultima Thule was unknown until 2014, eight years after New Horizons left the Earth. It was discovered by Hubble Space Telescope and added to the New Horizon itinerary.
Deep in the so-called Kuiper Belt, ice-covered outside Neptune, also known as the Twilight Zone, it is believed that Ultima Thule is worth 4.5 billion years to the creation of our Solar System. As such, it is "probably the best time capsule we've ever had for understanding the birth of our solar system and the planet in it," Stern said.
In classical and medieval literature, Thule was the farthest, the northernmost place outside of the known world.
Scientists suspect that Ultima Thule is an object longer than 32 km, although there is a possibility that it might prove to be two small bodies circulating around the other or connected to the thin neck. It is believed to be potato and dark red with a red touch, likely to cling to the cosmic beam for eons.
The exact form and composition will not be known until Ultima Thule begins sending data in a process that is expected to last almost two years.
"Who knows what we could find … Everything is possible in this very unknown region," said John Spencer, deputy scientist from the Southwest Research Institute. "We'll find out soon."