NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is about to explore more distant worlds than ever before, when it flies past the 2014 MU69 in the early hours of the New Year.
Over the past two weeks, the ship has gradually resorted to help, as NASA scientists conducted a series of checks and corrections of the trajectory to make sure that the New Horizons are on the right track to gather as much information as possible about the mysterious object– without colliding with any debris that may be hidden in the outer limits of our solar system.
On December 15, 12 researchers who make up the New Horizons Danger Monitoring Team confirmed that the approach trajectory was safe using the New Horizons long-range telescopic reconnaissance vehicle (LORRI). If they had Having discovered satellites or rings near Ultima, NASA would prefer to use an additional flight path, while the New Horizons corrected the course and flew past the object from a much greater distance.
“The team fully agreed that the spacecraft should remain on a closer trajectory, and the mission leadership accepted our recommendation,” said Mark Showalter, the head of the hazard team.
At the moment, New Horizons will fly over Ultima Thule from a distance of 3,500 kilometers (about 2,200 miles) – its best path. To put this in perspective, remember? New Horizons cameras shot them when they flew 12,500 kilometers (about 7,800 miles) from the surface of a distant dwarf planet.
Thus, the New Horizons will approach Ultima Thule three times closer than Pluto, and provide NASA researchers with valuable images and scientific data about a world about which we know practically nothing.
On December 26, New Horizons entered the Encounter Mode, a type of "safe mode", which ensures the fulfillment of the scientific mission tasks even in the event of a spacecraft malfunction. Under normal circumstances, a malfunction causes the New Horizons phone to call home for help, but due to the fact that it takes 12 hours, it is risky to do it when the spacecraft approaches.
In practice, entering the Encounter mode means that the spacecraft is already on its own. With thousands of instructions loaded into his onboard computers, he began his subtle dance, 1 billion miles behind Pluto.
Two days before we left New Horizons on our own devices, he photographed the far “world space” with the highest resolution: a dark pixel blur below shows the Ultima Thule in its center, at a distance of 10 million kilometers (about 6.3 million miles) ,
Within a week, this tiny pixel of light in the distance will become a world known. Let's see what it looks like, what it is made of, how cold it is, its mass and whether it has its own satellites.
New Horizons will literally ring in the New Year, flying past the most distant world that we have ever explored, with the closest approach, which will be set at 12:33 EST on January 1. Although the United States is currently in the middle of the ongoing closure of the federal government, you can still track flight reactions and flight simulations on the New Horizons mission website. Data and images from the flyby are expected later, on New Year's Day, approximately after 11:30 am EST.
We hope that New Horizons will also put 2019 on the right track, so I advise you to choose the interstellar soundtrack on New Year's Eve, settle in it and admire the new world that we are going to open.
First published December 26, 4:23 pm. PT
Update, December 27, 6:35 pm. PT: It adds that New Horizons has switched to Encounter Mode and is on its way to its historic overflight.
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