NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is just hours away from completing a historic flyby of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule. It’s on course and ready to gather scientific data on the small object’s geology, composition, atmosphere and more, with the closest approach taking place in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day — 12:33 a.m. EST to be exact — marking it as the most distant exploration of worlds ever completed by mankind. Read more for a video from today’s press conference and additional information.
The piano-sized spacecraft has covered a distance of four billion miles after 13-years to reach Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt. This vast region of space could potentially contain billions of small objects left over from the formation of the solar system, giving us a better understanding planetary formation.
“Even less than a day away, Ultima Thule remains an enigma to us, but the final countdown has begun. What we’ll very soon learn about this primordial building block of our solar system will exponentially expand our knowledge of this relatively unknown third region of space,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.