For ancient explorers, the ultimate Tourer is the northernmost edge of the map, beyond the boundaries of the known world.
So when NASA chooses a target further than ever for its New Horizons spacecraft, "Ultima Thule" seems to be a proper name. The far-
Flung space rock is a resident of the kuibo belt, a debris ring around the icy periphery of the solar system.
Ultima Thule is so dim and far away that scientists are not even sure what it looks like.
Some of their only information about its size and shape came from a series of coordinated observations last summer, when astronomers measured the shadows it cast as it passed in front of the star.
But New Horizons will eventually fly over the target after midnight on January.
Take photos and complex scientific measurements of what it sees.
When the first images and data streams return to Earth, the boundaries of the known world will expand again.
Alan Stern, a scientist at the Southwest Institute and chief researcher for the task, said: "This is just an original exploration . ".
"No one has ever seen an object with koibel except for a light spot.
No one has ever seen an object that almost freezes to absolute zero.
There are a lot of ideas, and every idea can be wrong.
He took a breath.
"We will find it on Tuesday.
NASA is celebrating the record.
Meet the most annoying New Year party in the solar system.
At the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which builds and operates the spacecraft, scientists will count down from 12: 33 in the morning to the closest moment to the new horizon. m.
East, then gather again after 10 hours to watch the first signal from flying over to their screen. (
It takes more than six hours for light to return to Earth from Ultima Thule. )
NASA's vaunted social media business, which fell silent during a partial government shutdown, has been temporarily restored to cover the incident.
Countdown, signal collection and subsequent press conferences will be broadcast live on nasa TV and YouTube.
Alice Bowman, APL's New Horizon mission operations manager, said the ship entered "encounter mode" on Wednesday ".
This configuration limits the communication between the spacecraft and the Earth, orders it to solve any technical problems quickly on its own, and then returns to science. Though nerve-
For engineers, the encounter mode ensures that New Horizons make the most of their short time near Ultima Thule.
"Because it's a flyover, we only have one chance to correct it," Bowman said . ".
New Horizons left Earth in January 2006;
This is the first mission to explore the farthest parts of the solar system.
9 years 3.
5 billion miles later, the first one
A close-up photo of Pluto reveals a complex and colorful world full of methane mountains and vast hearts
The formation of nitrogen ice plain.
After that flight, Stern and his colleagues began looking for a new goal in the koibel belt, which extends from the edge of Neptune's orbit to about 5 billion miles from the sun.
Until 1990, no one knows what is hidden here, the sun is 0.
As faint as on Earth.
Now, the koiber belt is thought to include millions of cold objects, unused planetary blocks left over from the early days of the solar system.
These bodies are time capsules that have been preserved in deep freezing for the past 4 years. 6 billion years.
NASA says Ultima Thule is probably the most primitive planet object ever explored.
In 2014, the koiber belt object was discovered with the Hubble Space Telescope.
Subsequent observations suggest that it is small.
No more than 20 miles across.
Astronomers believe it is a two-star Contact, consisting of two objects in contact with each other, and perhaps even a two-star system in which two objects surround each other.
The encounter with Ultima Thule will be short-lived, technically demanding, and even higher than the New Horizon's Pluto overflight.
Although Pluto is about the same size as the United States, it can run over Washington, DC. C.
This means that the new horizon must be closer to the small space rock to study it and the encounter will end sooner. Twenty-
Still four hours from the nearest method, Ultima Thule still occupies only two pixels in the images taken on the new horizon camera screen.
As New Horizons travel through space at 9 miles per second, it will take less than a day to turn Ultima Thule back into a spot in the rearview mirror.
But so far, says Stern, the performance of the New Horizon shows that it is ready for the challenge.
Measurements carried out on Saturday showed that the spacecraft was less than 20 miles from Ultima Thule's scheduled flyover, and the time of the encounter would be within the expected 2 seconds.
"We are meeting a mountain covered with black velvet in almost dark, and we are screaming in perfect 2 seconds," Stern said . ".
"You can't be better than that.