NASA's New Horizons Spacecraft Has Passed Ultima Thule, the Most Distant Target in History

Wednesday, 02 January 2019 - 10:41AM
Space
Wednesday, 02 January 2019 - 10:41AM
NASA's New Horizons Spacecraft Has Passed Ultima Thule, the Most Distant Target in History
< >
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Steve Gribben
While you were probably recovering from the night before on New Year's Day, NASA was making history again. 

The US space agency reports that on the first day of 2019, its New Horizons spacecraft flew past and successfully explored the most distant target in history: the minor planet 2014 MU69, also known as Ultima Thule. The object was first observed using the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014 and is approximately 19 miles in diameter at its widest point. During its approach, New Horizons came within 2,200 miles of Ultima Thule and took images using its high-resolution Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), revealing more details about its odd peanut shape.


Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI; sketch by James Tuttle Keane

"Congratulations to NASA's New Horizons team, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and the Southwest Research Institute for making history yet again," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement. "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."

Data and images from New Horizons will continue to trickle in for the next 20 months so there could be some incredible discoveries and reveals on the way, but for now the team is happy with spacecraft's performance and its important milestone. "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. "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!"

As if passing Ultima Thule isn't enough on its own, the New Horizons team can also celebrate the fact that Brian May, legendary guitarist and founding member of the band Queen, wrote a song for the historic deep-space flyby. Titled "New Horizons," the track is described as May's "personal tribute" to the spacecraft and its 12-year journey. "This mission is about human curiosity. The need of mankind to explore and see what makes the universe tick," said May in a presentation. "My song is an anthem to the human endeavor."

Science
NASA
Space