The first images from New Horizons' flyby of Ultima Thule arrive this

The first images from New Horizons' flyby of Ultima Thule arrive this

Scientists believe there should be no rings or moons around Ultima Thule that might endanger New Horizons.

The New Horizons spacecraft paid a visit to the tiny, icy world of Ultima Thule, which lies one billion miles beyond Pluto, in the early hours of New Year's Day.

"The Ultima Thule flyby is going to be fast, it's going to be challenging, and it's going to yield new knowledge", Stern wrote on the New Horizons blog. Clearer pictures are not expected for hours given the vast distance (bottom right the spacecraft's path). First, 2014 MU69 or Ultima Thule was formed way out in the middle of the Kuiper Belt some 4 billion miles away, where the temperature is close to absolute zero.

Ultima Thule was unknown until 2014, eight years after New Horizons departed Earth. It could be that the object rotates with its polar axis pointing towards Earth and New Horizons, so we don't see any noticeable change.

TRT World spoke with Lawrence Krauss, a professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Department in Arizona State University, for more insights. The program is a collaborative effort between NASA, the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, where scientists navigate and control the spacecraft. Instead, team members and their guests gathered nearby for back-to-back countdowns at midnight and again 33 minutes later. The flyby Ultima Thule can be watched on NASA TV YouTube channel, where there'll be a discussion about the flyby and the live stream of the signal captured by NASA.

Media captionWhere is Ultima Thule?

"We set a record".

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Its destination, Ultima Thule, "is 17,000 times as far away as the "giant leap" of Apollo's lunar missions", he added, recalling that December 1968 marks the 50th anniversary of the first time humans ever explored another world, when USA astronauts orbited the Moon aboard Apollo 8. The Kuiper Belt is too far away, and way too cold to encourage the formation of any planets, leaving all its fragments frozen in time for billions of years.

The space agency says it will pass the interstellar body at 5.33am GMT and take thousands of images as it does so.

The collected data on the Ground will continue through the fall of 2020.

New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said the mission's results could rock planetary science to a similar degree. December 13 was the last day for researchers to make the call to take New Horizons higher or lower, and according to Will Grundy of the Lowell Observatory in Arizona in an interview with Space.com, it takes months to plan a new route. Based on public votes, the object was nicknamed "Ultima Thule", which means "beyond the known world". As such, it is "probably the best time capsule we've ever had for understanding the birth of our solar system and the planets in it", Stern said.

Ultima Thule is orbiting in the heart of Kuiper Belt, a debris field of icy bodies - ranging in size from dwarf planets like Pluto to smaller planetesimals and comets - left over from the Solar System's formation 4.6 billion years ago.

But the encounter itself was risky, and if the spacecraft were to collide with a speck of space debris as small as a grain of rice, it could be destroyed instantly, mission managers warned.

"Who knows what we might find?".

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