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December 24, 2018 – January 6, 2019 / Vol 37, No 52 – Vol 38, No 1 / Hawai`i Island, USA

21 Dec 2018, 20:01 UTC
December 24, 2018 – January 6, 2019 / Vol 37, No 52 – Vol 38, No 1 / Hawai`i Island, USA
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New Horizons Pioneers New Exploration of Solar System 3rd Zone in New Year

Kuiper Belt explorer New Horizons is set to perform the farthest ever encounter, and its second flyby of a KBO, 2014 MU69 nicknamed Ultima Thule, ~4B miles (6.4B km) from the Sun on January 1, 2019 at 05:33 UT. This trans-Neptunian Object flyby will bring the craft within 3,500 km of Ultima; it neared Pluto at 12,500 km on 14 July 2015. Signal confirmation from New Horizons will take 6 hours, 7 minutes and 58 seconds to reach NASA Deep Space Network on Earth. Ultima is thought to be a contact binary or close binary system, 30 km in diameter with an orbital period of about 295 years. Science objectives of the flyby include characterizing its geology, morphology, composition, atmosphere and searching for water ice, satellites and a coma. It will take months for all the data to be recovered while New Horizons continues to speed through the unexplored Kuiper Belt, likely for another decade – as noted by PI Alan Stern. The team will look for and request funding to fly by a 3rd target within the ‘3rd Zone’ of the Solar System, which may extend ...

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