NASA scientists are making history with a flying probe that is past the mysterious, mountain-sized object outside Pluto's orbit.
If flyby goes as planned, it is the most distant object of space that mankind has ever tried to visit.
NASA's Nuclear Power Station, New Horizons, is trying to move on New Year's Day. The probe's approaching object is called Ultima Thule (pronounced "tool-ee") or 2014 MU 69as it is officially known.
NASA did not know that Ultima Thule existed when New Horizons was opened towards Pluto in 2006. There wasn't even a reliable way to detect it until the astronauts flew to the Hubble Space Telescope in May 2009 and joined the updated camera.
Hubble first shot Ultima Thule in June 2014 – about a year before New Horizons flew to Pluto. Now, 4 billion kilometers from Earth, New Horizons has an object for its attractions.
Deep uncertainty about Ultima Thule makes planetary scientists, such as Alan Stern, leading the New Horizons operation, even more enthusiastic about flying.
"If we knew what to expect, we wouldn't be going to Ultima Thule. It's an object we've never seen before," Stern told Business Insider. "Just what the research is."
Where and what spirit is Ultima Thule?
The new horizons go through the Kuiper zone, an area where sunlight is about as weak as full moon light. You're far away from the formation of a frozen system of frozen system – Kuiper Belt Objects or KBOs – covering large amounts (including Pluto).
Ultima Thule is one of these intact remains. It has presumably remained in its distant and icy orbit for billions of years, and it is not a planet that has changed its own mass and wiped its early history. This means that studying can help reveal how the solar system evolved to form planets like Earth, Stern said.
"Ultima is the first thing we've been not big enough to have a geological engine like a planet, and something that the sun has never warmed too much," he said. "It's like a time capsule that is 4.5 billion years ago. It makes it so special."
Stern added that flyby is the astronomical equivalent of the Egyptian archaeological mine.
"It's like the first time someone opened Pharaoh's tomb and went inside, and you see what culture was like 1000 years ago," he said. "Except for this, he is studying the dawn of the solar system."
Stern considers Ultima Thule a "planet-planetary" or seed that could have formed the planet if it had acquired enough material.
"It's a building block for large planets or planet embryos," Stern said. "In this sense, it is like a paleontologist who finds the fossil element of the dinosaur. It is a very special value."
In the first pictures of New Horizons, researchers pay special attention to the look of Ultima Thule. Learning whether the surface is relatively smooth or that has a mix of rocks, huge rocks, rocks, and other features provides tips on how the planets form.
Each New Horizons image information that moves at the speed of light as radio waves takes about six hours to reach the antennas on Earth.
Journey to the unknown
In June, New Horizons woke up for a year and a half to start zeroing at Ultima Thule.
After several inspections, the mission leaders in October shot a probe engine for a more precise path to Ultima Thule.
This week, the researchers decided to confirm that the New Horizons flight route has no apparent months, debris or other objects (and that they may slamata), so they kept the robot on their course of historic encounters.
Volleyball has begun late on New Year's Eve. New horizons begin to take hundreds of photos in a highly choreographed, pre-programmed sequence.
"By allowing some great dirt, covered with a covered hill, a billion kilometers from Pluto, and respecting it is about 10,000 times more difficult than reaching Pluto," Stern said. "This is because it is about 10,000 times smaller. Making it happen is incredible."
The goal of New Horizons cameras and other devices is not just Ultima Thule itself.
"We plastered all the spaces around it into moons, rings and even the atmosphere," Stern said. "If any of these things exist, we'll see them."
On New Year's Day at 12:33 ET ET is the closest point to it – about 2.175 miles – to a mountain-sized object. The new horizons also turn to remove the image at 35,000 mph.
Stern said the first pictures take two hours, and the first pictures will be released at the beginning of January on the 2nd day.
However, these early photos are small (such as Pluto). Getting the most detailed, accurate images takes months, due to space ship power, antenna and other physical limitations. The first full resolution images will not come until February.
Stern, who recently helped write the book "Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto," said Ultima Thule in a Norwegian phrase, which means "outermost borders". He went away to make any predictions about what the images might look like, and told them how shocked Pluto's first close-ups.
"I don't know what we find," he said. "If it's something surprising like Pluto, it's wonderful."
How to Watch Live Horizons Ultra-Thule Flight?
Those who are interested in seeing expert comments on the airline and seeing if they can succeed can tune in to new news on New Year's Day.
Michael Buckley, a spokesman for the applied physical laboratory at Johns Hopkins University (organized by NASA's New Horizons operation), said that Lab's YouTube channel is streaming video at a time when scientists learned that the spacecraft did it over Ultima Thule.
The exhibition will continue, even if the closing of the government of President Donald Trump for the financing of the border wall would suppress NASA's television in 2019.
"We are still designing the programming we've designed," Buckley told Business Insider. "The biggest change is that we don't use NASA platforms."
He said the live album is expected to start on January 1, around 9.30 am EST, and the New Horizons "ok" signal should arrive after 10.00 EST.