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New Horizons To Encounter Ultima Thule This New Years, And Here’s Why It Matters

4 Jan 2019, 15:01 UTC
New Horizons To Encounter Ultima Thule This New Years, And Here’s Why It Matters
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On January 1st, 2019, shortly after the switch into the new year, New Horizons will make its close pass of Ultima Thule. Here’s what we’re poised to learn. (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI/ALEX PARKER)Sometimes, the biggest answers to the deepest questions come in the most unexpected of places.In the Solar System, anything out past Neptune is generally considered to be the outer reaches of our local neighborhood. The only mission we’ve ever sent out with the express purpose of imaging a world beyond the Solar System’s final planet is New Horizons, which famously flew past Pluto in 2015. The data that it took was unprecedented, and reshaped our view of not only Pluto, but its moons, surface, atmosphere, and the Kuiper belt in general.Three years later, the New Horizons mission is now one billion miles (~1.6 billion km) farther away, and is rapidly approaching its new target: a small Kuiper belt object formally named 2014 MU69, but nicknamed Ultima Thule. On New Years Day, New Horizons will fly past this distant, little-understood object, imaging it with the full suite of its equipment. It’s a mission unlike any other, and will teach us about how our Solar System came to be.Asteroids and planetesimals in the ...

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