A mission by NASA to study ‘’ Ultima Thule’‘. ‘‘Ultima Thule’‘ is latin for a place beyond known world.
NASA’s New Horizons teams said Monday that the mission is all set to make the farthest flyby in history on New Year’s Day to embark on this study.
“This evening, the United States through NASA and the New Horizons project will make history. The farthest exploration of worlds ever attempted, four billion miles from home. I’m here to tell you that the spacecraft is on course, it’s healthy, it’s conducting observations as we speak. And it’s going to arrive on time at 33 minutes past midnight’‘, said Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator at NASA.
NASA scientists shared their speculations and expectations about Ultima’s shape, rotation, light curve, composition, colors and environment.
Ultima is in this gigantic zone of icy bodies and mysterious small objects, the Kuiper Belt, also known as the “third zone” of our solar system.
“By taking repeated images over time, we can see how the brightness of Kuiper Belt objects vary and we’ve been doing this for years now as we cross the Kuiper Belt. And studying the rotation periods of a whole whole suite of different Kuiper Belt objects the only one that hasn’t yielded a clear light curve is ultimate what’s up with Ultima. What’s up with Ultima? We don’t know, and here we are now just, what? ten hours from a flyby and we still don’t have a reliable light curve. We will find out why that is in the next 24 hours”, Stern added.
‘‘Ultima Thule’‘ is four billion miles from the Sun, a billion miles farther out than Pluto. The spacecraft is expected to send a message back to Earth at 33 minutes past midnight on New Year’s Day. It will take six hours for a radio signal to reach Earth, traveling at the speed of light.
John Spencer is New Horizons Deputy Project Scientist at NASA.
“I’m really interested in the color pictures that we’re going to get, because the capabilities are really intriguing, and its colors. We have a variety of objects that are very bright like Pluto, we have smaller objects of kind of grayish color,then we have other objects that are red or brownish in color. And we don’t understand at all why this is variation’‘, Spencer said.
NASA is one of the agencies affected by the partial federal government shutdown in the United States.
Principal investigator on this project read an email from NASA’s Chief Scientist in which he explained that due to the shutdown, he won’t be able to contribute to the mission as he had intended to.