SPACE­CRAFT GOES BE­YOND PLUTO

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY MAR­CIA DUNN

NASA’s New Hori­zons space­craft is set to ex­plore the ice ob­ject nick­named Ul­tima Thule.

The space­craft team that brought us close-ups of Pluto will ring in the new year by ex­plor­ing an even more dis­tant and mys­te­ri­ous world.

NASA’s New Hori­zons space­craft will zip past the scrawny, icy ob­ject nick­named Ul­tima Thule soon after the stroke of mid­night.

One bil­lion miles be­yond Pluto and an as­tound­ing 4 bil­lion miles from Earth, Ul­tima Thule will be the far­thest world ever ex­plored by hu­mankind. That’s what makes this deep-freeze tar­get so en­tic­ing; it’s a pre­served relic dat­ing all the way back to our so­lar sys­tem’s ori­gin 4.5 bil­lion years ago. No space­craft has vis­ited any­thing so prim­i­tive.

Lead sci­en­tist Alan Stern of South­west Re- search In­sti­tute in Boul­der, Colorado, ex­pects the New Year’s en­counter to be riskier and more dif­fi­cult than the ren­dezvous with Pluto: The space­craft is older, the tar­get is smaller, the flyby is closer and the dis­tance from us is greater. New Hori­zons: NASA launched the space­craft in 2006; it’s about the size of a baby grand pi­ano. It flew past Pluto in 2015, pro­vid­ing the first closeup views of the dwarf planet. With the wildly suc­cess­ful flyby be­hind them, mis­sion plan­ners won an ex­ten­sion from NASA and set their sights on a des­ti­na­tion deep in­side the Kuiper Belt. As dis­tant as it is, Pluto is barely in the Kuiper Belt, the so-called Twi­light Zone stretch­ing be­yond Nep­tune. Ul­tima Thule is in the Twi­light Zone’s heart.

AP

This il­lus­tra­tion pro­vided by NASA shows the New Hori­zons space­craft. NASA launched the probe in 2006.

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