Here's how to watch NASA send New Horizons past the solar system

Here's how to watch NASA send New Horizons past the solar system

Here's how to watch NASA send New Horizons past the solar system

After the Pluto reconnaissance mission was concluded, NASA authorized New Horizons to take on an extended mission to study Ultima Thule, which was identified using Hubble Space Telescope imagery during the probe's cruise toward Pluto.

For that reason, Stern said he and his colleagues were "on pins and needles to see how this turns out".

Another NASA spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx, also set a new record on Monday by entering orbit around the asteroid Bennu, the smallest cosmic object - about 1,600 feet (500 meters) in diameter - ever circled by a spacecraft.

Time: The flyby will occur around 10:33 a.m. MST on January 1.

Scientists are not sure what Ultima Thule (pronounced TOO-lee) looks like - whether it is cratered or smooth, or even if it is a single object or a cluster.

A version of the image with superimposed lines shows where stars blinked out as they passed behind Ultima Thule, and two red circles indicate how Ultima Thule would be oriented if it is really a pair of objects.

If New Horizons successfully completes this flyby, the encounter may tell us invaluable information about Kuiper Belt Objects like Ultima Thule. Scientists are hopeful New Horizons will capture the real thing.

According to a report in Digital Trends, NASA has already known that Ultima Thule's shape is not spherical, but that rather it boasts a kind of elongated shape, suggesting it could also be two objects which move close together.

'Because of where it was formed and the fact that Ultima is not large enough to have a geologic engine like Pluto and larger planets, we expect that Ultima is the most well-preserved sample of a planetary building block ever explored.

After closely studying the asteroid for several weeks, Osiris-Rex fired its thrusters to bring it into orbit around Bennu at 7.43pm United Kingdom time on New Year's Eve.

The NASA spacecraft that yielded the first close-up views of Pluto opened the new year at an even more distant world.

"Even less than a day away, Ultima Thule remains an enigma to us, but the final countdown has begun", said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. The high-resolution images of Ultima Thule are scheduled to be received and released back on Earth on Wednesday, January 2, truly revealing this distant body to the world for the first time.

What will it look like?: According to The Verge, New Horizons "will be as far away from the object as NY is from Los Angeles".

At the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which built and operates the spacecraft, scientists will count down to the moment of New Horizons' closest approach, at 12:33 a.m.

After zipping past Pluto in 2015, snapping breathtaking photos and revolutionizing our understanding of the dwarf planet, the New Horizons probe has drifted farther and deeper into the solar system.

After a 13-year journey, the piano-sized spacecraft has covered a distance of four billion miles to reach Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt - a donut-shaped region of ancient, rocky bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune.

"There's a lot of chatter in the science team room", Spencer said.

"Who knows what we might find?".

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