NASA will go down in history in the New Year, exploring the farthest object ever undertaken on Earth.
More than a billion kilometers from Pluto, the New Horizons spacecraft is on its way to a meeting with a space object known as Ultima Thule as it passes through the Kuiper belt region in the outermost solar system.
Here's what you need to know about the mission when New Horizons approaches the goal:
What are new horizons?
New Horizons spacecraft launched in 2006 as part of NASA's New Frontier project.
The ship was sent to study Pluto – still considered the planet of the time and the only unexplored in the solar system.
After reaching and exploring the dwarf planet and its moon, Charon, in 2015, New Horizons took up the secondary task of exploring the Kuiper belt, which it will perform over the next decade.
Ultima Thule will be the first Kuiper Belt object New Horizons will encounter, and several more are planned for future observation.
Where is Ultima Thule?
(486958) 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule, is an object discovered in the Kuiper belt by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014.
It is estimated that its diameter is 30 kilometers, about the same size as in Washington, DC, the object is at a distance of more than 6.5 billion kilometers from Earth.
There are discrepancies in what, according to scientists, Ultima Thule may look: estimates based on distance and brightness give it an elongated shape, while measurements of light are consistent with results obtained from a spherical body.
Experts say that Tula is a preserved relic 4.5 million years ago and can provide valuable information about the materials that were present at the beginning of our solar system.
When will the spacecraft fly?
The approach is scheduled for 12:33 EST.
The event will be broadcast live on NASA television and at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
NASA will not know whether the New Horizons survived the flight for several hours after the intended passage, due to the distance it will have to travel.
If everything goes according to plan, the first images of Ultima Thule are likely to be released to the world on Tuesday.
Who is piloting this?
The Canadian Frederick Pelletier serves as the chief navigator of the spacecraft, leading a team of eight from John Hopkins.
New Horizons will fly on the Ultima Thule at a distance of about 3,500 kilometers at a speed of 50,000 kilometers per hour.
What makes the task even more difficult is that it takes six hours to receive signals from Earth, and six more hours to return.
“When we are planning maneuvers for creating links and updates, we have to take this into account,” said Pelletier in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.
With files from the Canadian press