TAMPA: On Monday Dec 31st, NASA speeds toward a historic flyby of the far away, most probably the oldest, cosmic body called Ultima Thule, which was ever explored by human. The scientist were heading towards it in the hopes of learning more about how planets took shape as it is the tiniest and distant world.
This body is located about 6.4 billion kilometers away from the dark and frigid region of space known as the Kuiper Belt. The space agency in US had planned to begin the New Year with a live broadcast to zoom past it from the spacecraft.
At 12:33 am Tuesday Jan 1st, the flyby will take place beyond Pluto about a billion miles, which is until now the farthest away world ever visited up close by a spacecraft.
Since it takes more than six hours to send and receive the signals from Earth to the spaceship named New Horizon. It is impossible to share a real-time video of the actual flyby.
The live broadcast can be followed at www.nasa.gov/nasalive.
At a speed of 32,000 miles per hour the spaceship will be hurtling through space aiming to make the closest approach within 2,200 miles of the surface of Ultima Thule.
Abou 10 hours after the flyby, the spaceship is expected to send the first signal back to Earth, at around 9:45 am. It is the only way to know if New Horizons survived the close pass.
What does it look like?
The scientists are not sure how Ultima Thule looks like, whether it is smooth, cratered or even if it is a cluster or a single object.
Ultima Thule was believed to be 12 to 20 miles in size which was discovered in the year 2014 with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope.
A pixelated and blurred image was taken from 1.2 million miles away, which was released on Monday, has intrigued scientists because it appears not to show a round space rock but an elongated blob.
The flyby will be travelling as fast as a speed of nine miles per second.
It was said that the goal is to take images of Ultima which should be at least three times the resolution the team had for Pluto.
Frontier of planetary science
According to NASA, the cosmic body, Ultima Thule was named after a mythical, far-northern island in cartography.
The New York Times’ editorial recalled that December 2018 marks when the astronauts orbited Moon abroad Apollo 8. It had been 50th year since the first time humans ever explored another world.