NASA Preparing to Explore Ultima Thule—the Farthest Cosmic Object Ever Visited by Man

NASA's spacecraft is currently about 3,900,000 km away from its object.

Ultima Thule is going to go from a distant dot in the distance to a real world, explored by mankind.

In just a few days, NASA will make history again.

Just after Midnight, on January 1, 2019, the New Horizons spacecraft will reach one of the farthest objects in the solar system, ever visited by mankind: Ultima Thule.

The object, officially known as 486958 2014 MU69 is believed to be an extremely primitive object, linked to the birth of our solar system more than 4.5 Billion years ago.

The five discovery images of 2014 MU69 (Ultima Thule), shown separately. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The five discovery images of 2014 MU69 (Ultima Thule), shown separately. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

NASA’s spacecraft is currently about 3,900,000 km away from its target but is expected to make a close approach in a matter of days.

Once there, NASA will make history since not only will it be the most primitive object ever visited by mankind, at a distance of around one billion miles beyond Pluto, Ultima Thule will also be the most distant object ever explored by humans.

Here’s the schedule for the historic flyby mission:


Monday, Dec. 31:

— 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. EST (1900-2000 GMT): News conference previewing flyby science and operations
— 3 p.m. to 4 p.m EST (2000-2100 GMT): Q&A with the New Horizons team
— 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. EST (0100-0400 GMT on Jan. 1): Panel discussion about the exploration of small worlds; flyby countdown events; mission updates

Tuesday, Jan. 1

— 12:15 a.m. to 12:45 a.m. EST (0515-0545 GMT): Countdown to encounter; real-time flyby simulations
— 9:45 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. EST (1445-1515 GMT): Live coverage of New Horizons flyby signal acquisition
— 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. EST (1630 to 1730 GMT): Post-flyby news conference

Jan. 2

— 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT): News conference on flyby science results

Jan. 3

— 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT): News conference on flyby science results


You can follow all news related to to the mission via a series of news conferences and updates all of which you can watch directly via the space agency, or via the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

Experts say that the spacecraft will send data back to earth immediately following the flyby. However, due to the extreme distance between us and Ultima Thule, it will take around 20 months for all data to arrive back to Earth.

The first image that will arrive at Earth is expected to get here on the first of January. However, it won’t reveal much, as it will be just a few pixels appearing as a mere smudge in the vastness of space.

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