NASA's spacecraft to reach Ultima Thule on New Year day

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Representational Image
Representational Image

New Delhi : Breaking news from NASA space centre confirms that a  spacecraft team that brought us close-ups of Pluto will ring in the new year by exploring an even more distant and mysterious world. It is likely that the New Horizons spacecraft will reach the scrawny, icy object nicknamed Ultima Thule soon after the stroke of midnight of the New Year's day.

Ultima Thule is located one billion miles beyond Pluto and an astounding 4 billion miles from Earth and reaching the point means it will be the farthest world ever explored by humankind. The new exploration will help us to know our solar system's origin which date back to 4.5 billion years ago.

"What could be more exciting than that?" said project scientist Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University, part of the New Horizons team.

Top scientist Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, expects the New Year's encounter to be more challenging than the rendezvous with Pluto. The spacecraft is older, the target is smaller, the flyby is closer and the distance from the team is greater.

About Ultima Thule

Also known as Kuiper Belt object, it was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014. Officially known as 2014 MU69, it got the nickname Ultima Thule in an online vote. In classic and medieval literature, Thule was the most distant, northernmost place beyond the known world.

It is expected that the new horizon will make its closest approach in the wee hours of January 1, 12:33am EST. The spacecraft will zoom within 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometres) of Ultima Thule, its seven science instruments going full blast. The coast should be clear: Scientists have yet to find any rings or moons around it that could batter the spacecraft. New Horizons hurtles through space at 31,500 mph. and even something as minuscule as a grain of rice could demolish it. "There's some danger and some suspense," Stern said at a fall meeting of astronomers. It will take about 10 hours to get confirmation that the spacecraft achieved the target and survived.