Leading scientist Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, expects the New Year's meeting to be more risky and harder than rendering Pluto. The spacecraft is older, the target is smaller, the flight is closer and the distance from us is greater.
NASA launched the spacecraft in 2006, and the size of the big piano of the baby. She flew by Pluto in 2015, providing the first close-up view of the dwarf planet. With a wildly successful fleet behind them, mission planners won a NASA extension and set their landmarks to a destination deep inside the Kuiper Belt. As distant as it is, Pluto is hardly located in the Kuiperis belt, the so-called zone of twilight extending beyond Neptune. Ultima Tule is in the heart of Twilight.
This Kuiper Belt object was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014. Formally known as 2014 MU69, it won the nickname Ultima Thule in online voting. In classical and medieval literature, Thule was the farthest northern place outside the famous world. When New Horizons first saw rocky ice in August, it was just a point. Quality high quality images should be available the day after the flight.
Are we there?
New horizons will make their closest approach in the afternoon of January 1, the Australian eastern daylight. The spacecraft will zoom in at 3,500 kilometers from Ultima Thule, and its seven scientific instruments go into full blast. The beach should be clear: scientists have yet to find any rings or moons around him that could push the spacecraft. The new horizons penetrate the universe by 50,700 kilometers per hour, and even something small as a grain of rice can destroy it. "There is some danger and some uncertainty," said Stern at the fall of astronomers' meetings. It will take about 10 hours to get confirmation that the spacecraft has finished – and survived – the meeting.
Scientists speculate that Ultima Thule can be two objects that move around us around us. If the solo act is likely to be at most 32 kilometers. It can be even two bodies connected to the neck. If twins, each can be 15 kilometers to 20 kilometers in diameter.
Scientists will bring Ultima Thule in every possible way. They predict craters for impacts, possibly pits and holes, but its surface may also be smooth. As for the color, the Ultima Thule should be darker than the coal, burned by eons of cosmic rays, with reddish color. Nothing is certain, though, including its orbit, so large that it takes about 300 years on Earth to circle the sun. Scientists say they know enough about the orbit to intercept.
Comparison of flybys
The new horizons will be significantly closer to Ultima Thule than it did at Pluto: 3500 kilometers to 12,500 kilometers. At the same time, Ultima Thule is 100 times smaller than Pluto and is therefore more difficult to track, making it increasingly challenging. It takes 4 hours for flight control at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, to get a message to or from Pluto's new horizons. Compare it with more than six hours in Ultima Tule.
It will take almost two years for New Horizons to return all data to Ultima Thule. Flight to an even more distant world could be on the offensive in the 2020s, if NASA approves another extension of the mission and the spacecraft remains healthy. At the very least, new nuclear-weapon horizons will continue to observe objects from afar, as it enters deep into the Kuiper belt. There are countless items outside, waiting to be examined.