The probe with the new horizons managed to fly over Ultima Thule, the farthest celestial body ever visited. His encounter with this facility on the outskirts of the Solar System occurred at midnight on December 31st. Hours after the historic maneuver, the ship sent its first signals, which took six hours to travel at a speed of more than 6,600 million kilometers that separated it from the Earth. Finally, the message was received from NASA's deep space antenna outside Madrid, on Tuesday afternoon, on January 1st.
"The probe is in perfect condition. We've just got the furthest flight," said Alice Bowman, mission operations chief, for applause and exclamations of joy at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, USA, where the control center . Now, scientific data will begin to "come to understand the origin of our solar system," he added.
Ultima Thule is a world in the miniature, farthest and the oldest that have visited the space exploration. This longitudinal object discovered in 2014 is one of the thousands of asteroids and up to one billion comets that make up the Kuiper belt.
Our ship – the fastest ever released in space – has passed Ultima at 18 kilometers per second, a passing meeting, during which its cameras tried to show the geographical features of this body at a distance of about 2,000 kilometers, three times closer to what Pluto took on spectacular views. Thanks to this mission, the dwarf planet has ceased to be a small obscure ball that perceives telescope and has become a complex world with glaciers, water, and organic compounds where there may be an ocean under ice.
The latest available images made during the Ultima approach show an elongated body, in a bolus shape, "35km long and 15km wide," explained Alan Stern, chief mission scientist, at a press conference this afternoon, Stern explained that it is not yet known whether it is a body with two lobes or two separate objects.
The team expected to get the first pictures of the flight last night, process them and publish them tomorrow. The investigation took about 900 images of their encounter and sent them to Earth for the next two years, as explained in tweet Baumann, who is the first woman to occupy the position of operations chief of space mission at Johns Hopkins. Images with a higher resolution will arrive in February.
Just hours after flying, New horizons were already nearly half a million kilometers from the newly discovered little world and continued into the Kuiper belt, where it is possible to visit at least another asteroid in the coming years.
Ultima Thule is a time capsule. It was built from the original materials with which the Solar System began to form more than 4,000 million years ago and has since been difficult to change. Their study can clarify the origin of our star system and clarify the role that these bodies on the Kuiper belt play in diverting comets from their trajectories and bringing them closer to the core of the solar system, a process that can sow the life of our planet the impact of these bodies, as explained by this newspaper, Adriana Ocampo, one of those responsible for the mission.
A few hours earlier, another NASA spacecraft, Osiris-Rex, also made a history of entering the orbit of the asteroid Bennu, about 110 million kilometers from our planet, according to Nasa on December 31st. The probe became the first to orbit around an object that is small like the one, barely 500 meters in diameter.
It will also be one that sets the nearest orbit to a height of just one kilometer and a half altitude. Your ultimate goal will be to land on the surface, take a sample of earth and send it to Earth in 2023. This body is particularly interesting because it has little chance of hitting the Earth (0.027%).