Dream Destination in the Kuiper Belt
On December 31 of this year, the New Horizons spacecraft is set to fly by the distant object Ultima Thule. This tiny world lies in the Kuiper Belt, and the spacecraft has been en route to it since the July 2015 flyby of the Pluto system. The spacecraft has done another trajectory correction burn to home in on Ultima. Another one due about two weeks before closest approach. Then, on New Year’s Eve, the team and a bunch of its closest friends will be having the mother of all parties to celebrate the flyby, which takes place on 1 January 2019 at 05:33:00 UTC.
What is Ultima Thule?
rtist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft encountering 2014 MU69, a Kuiper Belt object that orbits one billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto, on Jan. 1, 2019. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Steve Gribben
Until 2014, nobody knew Ultima Thule existed. But, the New Horizons team knew there had to be some distant worlds their spacecraft could visit after the Pluto flyby. So, they used the Hubble Space Telescope to search for possible worlds along the spacecraft’s trajectory. On June 26, 2014, the telescope spotted one. It was promptly ...