In the outer parts of our starry neighborhood, the ice, an ancient cosmic rock called Ultima Thule, flies itself for billions of years, unchanged from the earliest days of the solar system.
On January 1, the space ship NASA "New Horizons"which is about 4 billion miles from Earth.
As most of us tried to break down the poor lectures at Auld Lang Syne, a team at the University of Applied Physics at Johns Hopkins University (APL) calculated seconds while their spacecraft did not pass the target. The closest approach, when the New Horizons were only 2,200 miles (about 3,500 kilometers) from the surface of Ultima Thule, occurred at 12:33 EST on Tuesday morning.
While New Horizons passed Ultima, APL's scenes reminded of the New Year's celebrations around the world, counting before scientists and engineers to start cheering and waving US flags. The unforgettable robot explorer, initially launched in January 2006, has gone through the farthest world we've explored at 32,000 miles per hour – or 9 miles secondly.
The 13th anniversary of the spacecraft is filled with the first, and with the flight of Ultima Tule, NASA achieves another historical moment in the research of our solar system.
"The study of this primitive world-which is about, unchanged from the beginning of the solar system-will give us vital insights into the origin and evolution of our heavenly neighborhood," wrote Alan Stern, chief researcher at Nova Horizons, a few hours before the climax flight.
Earlier in the evening, the Queen guitarist Brian Maydedicated to the latest attempt at New Horizons.
"I've been absolutely vicious of all the work," May said during a pre-flight television. "This mission for me is more than the mission itself, it is actually the spirit of adventure and discovery and research that is inherent in the human spirit."
Although the team celebrated the moment with joy, there is still a lot of work to do. The spacecraft has yet to return all data to show exactly how the mission progresses. Sending that key information back to Earth will take about six hours, and the acquisition signal is scheduled for 9:45 EST, January 1. Then, as science results begin to emerge, NASA will hold two press conferences detailing its findings at 2 pm. EST on January 2 and January 3.
Overall, the entire data package will take about 20 months to be returned to Earth.
Although the New Horizons had the lion's share of the spotlight, an hour before, NASA's cosmic plane made its own cosmic double step, adapting its suppressors just to begin a delicate gravity dance with a potentially dangerous asteroid Bennu.
On(Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) the spacecraft is successfully positioned in orbit around Bennu at 2:43 am. EST on New Year's Eve. The asteroid explorer will now enclose Bennu at a distance of just one mile, the closest spacecraft ever in the celestial body.
Bennu is such a small asteroid that keeps Osiris-Rex confident in its weak gravitational understanding, it will be an ongoing challenge, but the orbital input on Monday is another key step in allowing the spacecraft to extract the asteroid dust from the surface of Bennu.
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