In the extreme reach of our star quarter, an ice-cold, old rum mountain called Ultima Thule, driven alone for billions of years, remains unchanged since the early days of the solar system.
On January 1, NASA's New Horizon spacecraftlocated about 4 billion miles from the ground.
As most of us caroused and belted out bad transfers of "Auld Lang Syne", the team at John Hopkins University counted the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) down the seconds until their spacecraft passed the intended target. The closest approach, when New Horizons was only 2,200 miles (about 3,500 kilometers) from the surface of Ultima Thule, took place at. 12:33 AM EST Tuesday morning.
As New Horizons passed Ultima, the scenes at APL on New Year's festivals around the world reminded us of a countdown before scientists and engineers began to cheer and fan US flags. The pristine robot scientist, originally launched in January 2006, barreled past the farthest world we've yet explored at 32,000 miles per hour – or 9 miles per hour. second.
The spacecraft's 13-year journey has been filled with the first time, and with Ultima Thule flyby, NASA achieves another historic moment in exploring our solar system.
"Studying this primitive world – which has existed, unchanged since the beginning of the solar system – will give us an important insight into the origins and evolution of our heavenly neighborhood," wrote Alan Stern, lead researcher with the New Horizons team, hours before the climatic flying city. .
Earlier tonight, Queen guitarist Brian Maydedicated to New Horizon's latest efforts.
"I've been absolutely enchanted by it all," said May during a pre-flyby telecast. "This mission to me represents more than the mission itself; in fact, it represents the spirit of adventure and discovery and inquiry inherent in the human spirit."
Although the team celebrated the moment with bowl, there is still plenty of work to do. The spacecraft is yet to radiate any data that will show exactly how the mission progressed. Sending the important information back to Earth will take about six hours and a signal connection is scheduled for at. 9.45 am on January 1st. So, as the science results begin to thrive, NASA holds two press conferences describing its results at. EST on January 2 and January 3.
In total, the entire data packet takes approx. 20 months to be sent back to Earth.
Although New Horizons has had the lion's share of the limelight, another NASA spacecraft performed its own cosmic two-step just hours before, adjusting its thrusters just enough to start a delicate gravitational dance with potentially dangerous asteroid Bennu.
The(Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) asteroid sampling spacecraft successfully placed themselves in orbit around Bennu kl. 14.44. EST on New Year's Eve. The asteroid explorer will now circulate Bennu at a distance of only one kilometer, the closest a spacecraft has ever been to a celestial body.
Bennu is such a small asteroid that holds Osiris-Rex safely in its heavy gravitational concept, will be an ongoing challenge, but Monday's orbital deployment marks yet another important step in allowing the spacecraft to pick asteroid dust from Bennu's surface.
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