New Horizons Successfully Flies By Ultima Thule

At left is a composite of two images taken by New Horizons’ high-resolution Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), which provides the best indication of Ultima Thule’s size and shape so far. Preliminary measurements of this Kuiper Belt object suggest it is approximately 20 miles long by 10 miles wide (32 kilometers by 16 kilometers). An artist’s impression at right illustrates one possible appearance of Ultima Thule, based on the actual image at left. The direction of Ultima’s spin axis is indicated by the arrows. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI; sketch courtesy of James Tuttle Keane)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past Ultima Thule in the early hours of New Year’s Day, ushering in the era of exploration from the enigmatic Kuiper Belt, a region of primordial objects that holds keys to understanding the origins of the solar system.

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Hubble Paved the Way for the New Horizons Mission to Pluto and Ultima Thule

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope discovered the next target for the New Horizons spacecraft — 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule — in June 2014. Seen in these five overlaid images, the object resides more than one billion miles beyond Pluto in the frigid outer reaches of the Kuiper Belt. New Horizons will reach Ultima Thule on New Year’s Day 2019. (Credit: NASA/STScI/JHUAPL/SwRI)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — Years before a team of researchers proposed a mission called New Horizons to explore the dwarf planet Pluto, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope had already made initial observations of the world at the dim outer fringes of our celestial neighborhood. Over many years, Hubble’s pioneering observations repeatedly accomplished what ground-based telescopes could not — imaging features on Pluto’s surface, finding new Plutonian moons, and tracking down a destination to visit after Pluto — an even tinier, icy object in a vast region of small worlds beyond the orbit of Neptune called the Kuiper Belt.

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New Horizons Scientists Puzzled by Lack of ‘Light Curve’ from Ultima Thule

Video Caption: NASA’s New Horizons team trained mobile telescopes on an unnamed star (circled) from a remote area of Argentina on July 17, 2017. A Kuiper Belt object 4.1 billion miles from Earth — known as 2014 MU69 — briefly blocked the light from the background star, in what’s known as an occultation. The time difference between frames is 200 milliseconds, or 0.2 seconds. This data will help scientists better measure the shape, size and environment around the object. The New Horizons spacecraft will fly by this ancient relic of solar system formation on Jan. 1, 2019. It will be the most distant object ever explored by a spacecraft.

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is bearing down on Ultima Thule, its New Year’s flyby target in the far away Kuiper Belt. Among its approach observations over the past three months, the spacecraft has been taking hundreds of images to measure Ultima’s brightness and how it varies as the object rotates.

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All About Ultima: New Horizons Flyby Target is Unlike Anything Explored in Space

This is the first detection of Ultima Thule using the highest resolution mode of the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard the New Horizons spacecraft. Three separate images, each with an exposure time of 0.5 seconds, were combined to produce the image. All three images were taken on Dec. 24, when Ultima was 4 billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) from the Sun and 6.3 million miles (10 million kilometers) from the New Horizons spacecraft. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is set to fly by a distant “worldlet” 4 billion miles from the Sun in just six days, on New Year’s Day 2019. The target, officially designated 2014 MU69, was nicknamed “Ultima Thule,” a Latin phrase meaning “a place beyond the known world,” after a public call for name recommendations. No spacecraft has ever explored such a distant world.

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How to Follow the New Horizons Flyby of Ultima Thule

Artist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft encountering 2014 MU69, a Kuiper Belt object that orbits the Sun 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto, on Jan. 1, 2019. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Where to Watch
(Courtesy JHUAPL)

A schedule of televised events is below; all times EST and subject to change according to mission timelines and activities. Keep checking back for updates and additions!

Alternate Viewing

Should the federal government shutdown continue through New Horizons’ Ultima Thule flyby – and NASA TV, nasa.gov and other agency digital and social channels remain offline – the New Horizons mission will provide coverage of live mission activities on this website and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory YouTube channel.

DateTimeEvent
28
Friday
December, 2018
1:00-1:30 pm EST
New Horizons: Beyond Pluto. Preview of the spacecraft and science operations during the Ultima Thule flyby.
31
Monday
December, 2018
2:00-3:00 pm EST
Press briefing: Ultima Thule flyby science and operations preview
3:00-4:00 pm EST
Q&A: Ask the New Horizons Team
8:00-11:00 pm EST
Panel discussion on exploration of small worlds (8-9 pm); Ultima Thule flyby countdown events; mission updates
1
Tuesday
January, 2019
12:15-12:45 am EST
Live coverage of countdown to closest approach (12:33 am); real-time flyby simulations
9:45 – 10:15 am EST
Live coverage of New Horizons signal-acquisition from Ultima Thule flyby
11:30 am– 12:30 pm EST
Press briefing: Spacecraft status, latest images and data download schedule
2
Wednesday
January, 2019
2:00-3:00 pm EST
Press briefing: Science results from Ultima Thule
3
Thursday
January, 2019
2:00-3:00 pm EST
Press briefing: Science results from Ultima Thule

Send a Message to New Horizons


After a stellar flyby on Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons is set to make the first flyby of Kuiper belt object on New Year’s Eve as it zips past Ultima Thule. Now you can beam a greeting to the plucky probe that’s four billion miles from home at this website. Don’t delay. It’s a limited-time offer.

Record Setting Course Correction Puts New Horizons on Track to Kuiper Belt Flyby

Artist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft encountering 2014 MU69, a Kuiper Belt object that orbits the Sun 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto, on Jan. 1, 2019. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — With just 29 days to go before making space exploration history, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft performed a short but record-setting course-correction maneuver on Dec. 2 that refined its path toward Ultima Thule, the Kuiper Belt object it will fly by on Jan. 1.

Just as the exploration of Ultima Thule will be the farthest-ever flyby of a planetary body, Sunday’s maneuver was the most distant trajectory correction ever made. At 8:55 a.m. EST, New Horizons fired its small thrusters for 105 seconds, adjusting its velocity by just over 1 meter per second, or about 2.2 miles per hour. Data from the spacecraft confirming the successful maneuver reached the New Horizons Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, through NASA’s Deep Space Network, at 5:15 p.m. EST.

The maneuver was designed to keep New Horizons on track toward its ideal arrival time and closest distance to Ultima, just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1.

At the time of the burn New Horizons was 4.03 billon miles (6.48 billion kilometers) from Earth and just 40 million miles (64 million kilometers) from Ultima – less than half the distance between Earth and the Sun. From that far away, the radio signals carrying data from the spacecraft needed six hours, at light speed, to reach home.

The team is analyzing whether to conduct up to three other course-correction maneuvers to home in on Ultima Thule. Follow New Horizons to Ultima at http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/Mission/Where-is-New-Horizons.php.

“Chasing New Horizons” Gets to the Heart of Mysterious Pluto

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Chasing New Horizons: Insider the Epic First Mission to Pluto
by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon
Picador, 2018
hardcover, 320 pp., illus.
ISBN 978-1-250-09896-2
US$28.00

As America celebrated Independence Day on July 4, 2015, many members of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) team that had guiding NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft toward the first ever exploration of Pluto took a little time off to relax before their lives became very busy.

After a 9.5-year long journey, the spacecraft was only 10 days out from its closest approach to the mysterious dwarf planet. All the secrets Pluto had kept hidden for 85 years since Clyde Tombaugh discovered in 1930 were about to be revealed.

And then the unthinkable happened. Controllers suddenly lost contact with the spacecraft as they were loading the final software needed to guide it through week-long flyby sequence set to begin in only three days. When communications were restored, controllers discovered to its horror that the program and all the supporting files they had spent months uploading had been wiped from the spacecraft’s computer.

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NASA to Host Live Science Chat on Asteroid, Kuiper Belt Missions

This is an artist’s concept of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft preparing to take a sample from asteroid Bennu. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/Chris Meaney)

NASA will host a live Science Chat at 2 p.m. EST Wednesday, Nov. 7, to discuss upcoming encounters of two of the agency’s planetary missions – the arrival of the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) at the asteroid Bennu, on Dec. 3, and New Horizons’ historic flyby of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, on Jan. 1, 2019.

Topics will include the critical clues these objects hold to the formation of the solar system, complementary mission science goals and much more.

The event will air on Facebook Live, NASA Television, UstreamYouTube and the agency’s website.

Participants include:

  • Hal Weaver, New Horizons Project Scientist, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
  • Melissa Morris, OSIRIS-REx Deputy Program Scientist, NASA Headquarters

Media may submit questions before and during the event by emailing JoAnna Wendel at joanna.r.wendel@nasa.gov. The public may ask questions on Twitter by using the hashtag #askNASA or by leaving a comment on the livestream of the event on the NASA Solar System page.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will initiate an intricate dance with Bennu, mapping and studying it in preparation for sample collection in July 2020. OSIRIS-REx will deliver the sample to Earth in September 2023.

New Horizons will fly by its target, nicknamed Ultima Thule, approximately four billion miles from Earth – the farthest space probe flyby in history. This encounter complements the discoveries still coming from the mission’s July 2015 exploration of the Pluto system. However, this time, the spacecraft will come three times closer to Ultima than it did to Pluto.

For information about NASA’s New Horizons mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

For more information about NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex

Ultima in View: NASA’s New Horizons Makes First Detection of Kuiper Belt Flyby Target

The figure on the left is a composite image produced by adding 48 different exposures from the News Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), each with an exposure time of 29.967 seconds, taken on Aug. 16, 2018. The predicted position of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule is at the center of the yellow box, and is indicated by the yellow crosshairs, just above and left of a nearby star that is approximately 17 times brighter than Ultima. At right is a magnified view of the region in the yellow box, after subtraction of a background star field “template” taken by LORRI in September 2017 before it could detect the object itself. Ultima is clearly detected in this star-subtracted image and is very close to where scientists predicted, indicating to the team that New Horizons is being targeted in the right direction. The many artifacts in the star-subtracted image are caused either by small mis-registrations between the new LORRI images and the template, or by intrinsic brightness variations of the stars. At the time of these observations, Ultima Thule was 107 million miles (172 million kilometers) from the New Horizons spacecraft and 4 billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) from the Sun. (Image credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — Mission team members were thrilled – if not a little surprised – that New Horizons’ telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was able to see the small, dim object while still more than 100 million miles away, and against a dense background of stars. Taken Aug. 16 and transmitted home through NASA’s Deep Space Network over the following days, the set of 48 images marked the team’s first attempt to find Ultima with the spacecraft’s own cameras.

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Charon Discovered 40 Years Ago

Forty years after his important discovery, Jim Christy holds two of the telescope images he used to spot Pluto’s large moon Charon in June 1978. A close-up photo of Charon, taken by the New Horizons spacecraft during its July 2015 flyby, is displayed on his computer screen. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Art Howard/GHSPi)

New Horizons Team Celebrates Four Decades of Discovery on Pluto’s Large, Amazing Moon

Laurel, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — The largest of Pluto’s five moons, Charon, was discovered 40 years ago today by James Christy and Robert Harrington at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona – only about six miles from where Pluto itself was discovered at Lowell Observatory. They weren’t even looking for satellites of Pluto – Christy was trying to refine Pluto’s orbit around the Sun.

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Alan Stern to Visit Mojave to Talk About “Chasing New Horizons”

New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern celebrates a Guinness World Record certificate on July 19 at U.S. Postal Service Headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Dan Afzal, U.S. Postal Service)

MOJAVE, Calif. (MASP PR) — Alan Stern will be at the Stuart O. Witt Event Center at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 from 4:00 pm – 5:00 p.m. promoting his new book, “Chasing New Horizons”. He will speak for around 30 minutes and then will chat and sign books.

Seating is limited. If you plan to attend, Please RSVP to info@mojaveairport.com no later than Thursday, June 7th.

New Horizons Wakes for Historic Kuiper Belt Flyby

One artist’s concept of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, the next flyby target for NASA’s New Horizons mission. This binary concept is based on telescope observations made at Patagonia, Argentina on July 17, 2017 when MU69 passed in front of a star. New Horizons theorize that it could be a single body with a large chunk taken out of it, or two bodies that are close together or even touching. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is back “awake” and being prepared for the farthest planetary encounter in history – a New Year’s Day 2019 flyby of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule.

Cruising through the Kuiper Belt more than 3.7 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) from Earth, New Horizons had been in resource-saving hibernation mode since Dec. 21. Radio signals confirming that New Horizons had executed on-board computer commands to exit hibernation reached mission operations at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, via NASA’s Deep Space Network at 2:12 a.m. EDT on June 5.

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Missions to Moon, Mars, Mercury & More Set for 2018

This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passing by Earth. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

Updated with SpaceX’s Red Tesla launch.

An international fleet of spacecraft will be launched in 2018 to explore the Moon, Mars, Mercury and the Sun. Two sample-return spacecraft will enter orbit around asteroids while a third spacecraft will be launched to search for asteroids that contain water that can be mined.

NASA will also launch its next exoplanet hunting spacecraft in March. And the space agency will ring in 2019 with the first ever flyby of a Kuiper Belt object.

And, oh yes, Elon Musk is launching his car in the direction of Mars.
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