Ultima Thule: a NASA spacecraft reached the most distant target to date

Ultima Thule: a NASA spacecraft reached the most distant target ever
© NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

On New Year’s Day NASA‘s New Horizons spacecraft flew past Ultima Thule, the most distant target in history.

Reaching Ultima Thule is the first step of exploration into the Kuiper Belt, a region of primordial objects which could hold vital information on the  origins of the solar system.

Ultima Thule

Adam L. Hamilton, president and CEO of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, commented: “Reaching Ultima Thule from 4 billion miles away is an incredible achievement. This is exploration at its finest. Kudos to the science team and mission partners for starting the textbooks on Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. We’re looking forward to seeing the next chapter.”

A composite of two images taken by New Horizons’ high-resolution Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), which provides the best indication of Ultima Thule’s size and shape so far. Preliminary measurements of this Kuiper Belt object suggest it is approximately 20 miles long by 10 miles wide (32 kilometers by 16 kilometers). An artist’s impression at right illustrates one possible appearance of Ultima Thule, based on the actual image at left. The direction of Ultima’s spin axis is indicated by the arrows. ©NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI;

What’s next after the most distant target in history?

The NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “Congratulations to NASA’s New Horizons team, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Southwest Research Institute for making history yet again. In addition to being the first to explore Pluto, today New Horizons flew by the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft and became the first to directly explore an object that holds remnants from the birth of our solar system. This is what leadership in space exploration is all about.”

New Horizon launched in January 2006. The New Horizons spacecraft will continue downloading images and data in the months ahead. All data is expected to be returned over the next 20 months. The spacecraft began its exploration of the Kuiper Belt with a flyby of Pluto and its moons. The spacecraft will continue its exploration of the Kuiper Belt until at least 2021.

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