Billions of miles past Pluto, in the farthest places of the Solar System, lies on an object called Ultima Thule. His name means "outside the familiar world".
Although scientists have discovered it with telescopes, they do not know much about it. What they have learned from their observations is that Ultima Thule is a rock in the Kuiper zone of the Solar System, the area above Neptune. It is improperly shaped and about 18 miles across. It could look like two potatoes that were glued together, such as:
On January 1, the New Horizons spacecraft, the one known to fly from Pluto, will pass from Ultima Tule to explore this strange rock and try to find out more about the formation of our solar system.
After the new horizons flew next to Pluto in 2015, its mission scientists selected Ultima Thule as the next station in the Kuiper belt, mainly because New Horizons had the opportunity to reach it with the remaining fuel.
But the New Year's holidays are significant because Ultima will be the farthest facility in the solar system, which once explored humanity, and one of the most primitive.
Since Ultima is in such a cold, distant and peaceful area of the solar system, it probably orbits the sun smoothly for almost the entire era of the solar system.
"We expect Ultima to be the most well-preserved sample of a planet-building block that was once explored," writes Alan Stern, chief researcher at New Horizons, on the blog. "What will Ultimas discover? Nobody knows. For me, this is what is most exciting – this is pure research and fundamental science!"
Until Stern, the flying-and the images coming from him-will be similar to the famous photo "Earth Sunrise" made by Apollo 8 mission 50 years ago. This picture was made for the first time people orbited the moon. It was the first time we saw our own planet from the perspective of another world.
"During all those years between the Apollo 8 survey in December and NASA, NASA made history researching farther and farther," Stern writes. "As a result, we have made Carl Sagan's predictions that in just one generation or two planets will be transformed from light spots into true and explored worlds."
For now, Ultima Thule is still the only point of light. Here's what looks like the camera of New Horizons, while the spacecraft is approaching closer.
But soon it will be much more than the point of light. The images of the building could be darker than those of Pluto (that is billions of dollars miles away from the sun). But New horizons have a camera that can make incredible delicate details. Just look at the pictures he took for Pluto.
Recall that Pluto was just a point of light. The new horizons found it to be an amazing, dynamic world with a beautiful ice-shaped airplane. This GIF shows Pluto's best picture we had since 2015 transformed into what is seeing the New Horizons of its historic spillover. It went from a greasy hole to beauty.
(And yes, scientists are still debating whether Pluto deserves to be nominated for a planet instead of a dwarf planet.)
The new horizons will pass from Ultima Tulea around 12:33 am east on January 1, just after the start of the New Year. You can follow along with NASA on live television in NASA (see below). The new horizons will also carry messages from the public (the filings ended on December 21) to celebrate the arrival to date.