Sky at Night Magazine - - BULLETIN -

NASA’s New Hori­zons space probe has been swiftly clos­ing in on Ul­tima Thule, an ob­ject in the Kuiper Belt 100 times smaller than Pluto. The most dis­tant en­counter ever with a So­lar Sys­tem body will come on 1 Jan­uary 2019.

New Hori­zons, which vis­ited Pluto in July 2015, be­gan send­ing back im­ages in Novem­ber to help mis­sion con­trollers at the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity Ap­plied Physics Lab­o­ra­tory find po­ten­tially haz­ardous moons or rings in its path. Its clos­est ap­proach to Ul­tima Thule, at 05.33 UT on New Year’s Day, will be just 3,500km.

Of­fi­cially named (486958) 2014 MU69, Ul­tima Thule or­bits 1.5 bil­lion km beyond Pluto and will of­fer clues to the for­ma­tion of the So­lar Sys­tem. “It likely rep­re­sents the best sam­ple of the an­cient So­lar Ne­bula ever stud­ied,” says prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor Alan Stern. “Noth­ing like it has ever been ex­plored.” Read more from Alan Stern on page 106

An artist’s im­pres­sion of New Hori­zons and the Kuiper Belt ob­ject (486958) 2014 MU69, less for­mally known as Ul­tima Thule

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