NEW HORIZONS ON TARGET
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.” pluto.jhuapl.edu 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