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31 December 2018, 10:10 | Edward Lowe
New Horizons will speed by Ultima Thule at 32,000 miles per hour (52,000 kilometers per hour) with closest approach at 12:33 am ET on January 1 collecting data and images that will be transmitted back to Earth. Yet on New Year's Day, it will meet another object on the edge of the Solar System - a rock nicknamed Ultima Thule, located 1 billion miles beyond Pluto, the Verge reported.
Later on New Years Day NASA will broadcast the signal acquisition from New Horizons, confirming that it gathered the data it was instructed to and building up some serious hype for the eventual reveal of the first images of the distant object.
Mission operations aren't affected by the partial government shutdown and, earlier today, NASA announced that its social media and television teams will be able to cover the flyby event.
Ultima Thule will not be the first KBO visited by a spacecraft because Pluto itself is categorized as a KBO. Flying beyond Pluto, the spacecraft will whish into the space streaming to the ancient relic of the solar system.
This Kuiper Belt object was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014.
Already there is reason to believe something odd lies just around the corner.
The New Horizons probe will photograph the extraterrestrial object during a flyby in an attempt to better understand the outer reaches of the Milky Way.
"It's estimated to have a diameter of 30 kilometres right now, " Pelletier said.
The first hints of what Ultima Thule really looks like will begin to emerge on December 31, when the piano-sized spacecraft is still further away from the object than the Earth is to the moon.
The objects in the Kuiper Belt are extremely cold - a mere 35 degrees Kelvin above absolute zero.
Scientists say Ultima is like a big frozen mummy born in the distant galaxy and should act like a time capsule because its frozen terroir should preserve its history. It took 4 1/2 hours, each way, for flight controllers at Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, to get a message to or from New Horizons at Pluto.
"There's a lot of future exploration ahead for New Horizons".
"We know that Ultima Thule was born at this very great distance from the Sun and has always been in that region of the solar system". "I'm ready to be excited and surprised by what we find".
The voyage beyond Pluto to the Kuiper Belt is part of the extended mission. It will take about 10 hours to get confirmation that the spacecraft completed - and survived - the encounter.
"The Voyagers and Pioneers flew through the Kuiper Belt at a time when we didn't know this region existed", Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said in a statement.
The New Horizons spacecraft blasted off January 19, 2006 for its trip to Pluto, and since 2015, has been moving deeper into space.
Based on its circular orbit, as opposed to the elliptical orbits of the planets, Ultima Thule formed 4 billion miles away in the middle of the Kuiper Belt.
Passing by Ultima Thule is going to be an incredibly challenging task as due to its small size and distance, the object is hard to see and track from Earth.
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But New Horizons' journey doesn't stop at Ultima Thule.
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