NASA Probe Investigates Furthest Target Ever, A Tiny Icy World 4-Billion Miles From The Sun

January 2, 2019

ultima-thule.jpg

*banging on keyboard* I SAID ZOOM AND ENHANCE.

Seen here looking like an out-of-focus bowling pin is an image of Ultima Thule sent back to NASA from the New Horizons space probe. Ultima Thule is a small irregularly shaped icy world some 4-billion miles from the sun, and marks the furthest target of a human launched space probe in history. How about that! *looks for party hat and noise maker, vaguely remembers torching them on New Year's* Some more info from NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory while I see if pouring lukewarm coffee onto an unhealed burn is an effective way to caffeinate:

"New Horizons performed as planned today, conducting the farthest exploration of any world in history -- 4 billion miles from the Sun," said Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "The data we have look fantastic and we're already learning about Ultima from up close. From here out the data will just get better and better!"


Images taken during the spacecraft's approach -- which brought New Horizons to within just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of Ultima at 12:33 a.m. EST -- revealed that the Kuiper Belt object may have a shape similar to a bowling pin, spinning end over end, with dimensions of approximately 20 by 10 miles (32 by 16 kilometers). Another possibility is Ultima could be two objects orbiting each other. Flyby data have already solved one of Ultima's mysteries, showing that the Kuiper Belt object is spinning like a propeller with the axis pointing approximately toward New Horizons. This explains why, in earlier images taken before Ultima was resolved, its brightness didn't appear to vary as it rotated. The team has still not determined the rotation period.

As the science data began its initial return to Earth, mission team members and leadership reveled in the excitement of the first exploration of this distant region of space.

It will take approximately 20 months for the probe's entire data set to be transmitted back to NASA across the 4-billion miles between earth and Ultima Thule, at which time it will already be 2020 and almost 2021. That's crazy to think about. Just imagine how much older and wiser I'll be by then. "Wiser?" Just imagine how much older I'll be by then. "A year and eight months." Math nerd!

Thanks to Linc and hairless, who like daydreaming about space almost as much as I do, but only if you combine their likes and multiple it by infinity.

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