To historic explorers, “ultima Thule,” or probably the most distant area, was what lay previous the northernmost edges of maps, past the borders of the identified world. So when NASA selected a goal for its New Horizons spacecraft that was farther than something beforehand explored, Ultima Thule appeared a fitting moniker. The far-flung area rock is an inhabitant of the Kuiper belt, the ring of particles that encircles the icy outer reaches of the Solar System.
On the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), which constructed and operates the spacecraft, scientists will rely all the way down to the second of New Horizons’ closest strategy, at 12:33 am Eastern Time (05:33 UTC), then reconvene 10 hours later to look at the primary indicators from the flyby stream on their screens. (It takes greater than six hours for gentle to journey from Ultima Thule to Earth.)
NASA’s vaunted social media operation, a casualty of the partial authorities shut down, has been briefly restored to cowl the occasion. The countdown, sign acquisition, and subsequent information conferences shall be streamed stay on NASA TV and YouTube.
Alice Bowman, mission operations supervisor for New Horizons at APL, mentioned the spacecraft entered “encounter mode” on Wednesday. This configuration limits the spacecraft’s communication with Earth, commanding it to rapidly deal with any technical points by itself, then get again to science.
Although nerve-racking for engineers, encounter mode ensures that New Horizons makes permanently the most of its transient time close to Ultima Thule. “As a result of this can be a flyby, we solely get one likelihood to get it proper,” Bowman stated.