NASA's New Horizons Probe 'Phones Home' in Landmark Mission to Ultima Thule

NASA’s New Horizons explorer successfully”phoned home” on Tuesday Following a journey to the most distant world ever explored by humankind, a Suspended rock at the edge of the solar system Which scientists Expect will uncover secrets to its creation.

The nuclear-powered space probe has travelled 4 billion kilometers (6.4 billion km) to emerge inside 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers ) of Ultima Thule, an seemingly peanut-shaped, 20-mile-long (32-km-long) space rock in the uncharted heart of the Kuiper Belt. The buckle is a ring of icy celestial bodies just outside Neptune’s orbit.

Engineers at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland cheered when the spacecraft’s first signs came through the National Aeronautics and Space Agency’s Deep Space Network at 10:28am EST (1528 GMT).

The spacecraft will ping back more comprehensive images and information in Thule in the forthcoming days, NASA said.

Launched in January 2006, New Horizons embarked on its own 4 billion-mile travel toward the solar system’s edge to study the dwarf planet Pluto and its five moons.

“Last night, overnght, the United States spacecraft New Horizons ran the farthest exploration in the history of humankind, also did so reluctantly,” New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern told a news conference at the Johns Hopkins centre in Laurel, Maryland.

A picture of Thule, sent overnight and hardly more detailed than previous images, deepens the mystery of whether Thule is a single rock shaped like a asymmetrical peanut or actually two rocks displaying each other,”blurred together because of their proximity,” Stern explained.

During a 2015 fly-by, the probe found Pluto to be marginally larger than previously believed. In March, it shown methane-rich dunes on the arctic dwarf world’s surface.

Now 1 billion miles (1.6 billion km) beyond Pluto because of its second assignment to the Kuiper Belt, New Horizons will study the makeup of Ultima Thule’s atmosphere and terrain in a months-long study to seek clues about the formation of the solar system and its planets.

Scientists had not discovered Ultima Thule as soon as the probe was started, according to NASA, making the assignment unique in that respect. In 2014, astronomers discovered Thule with the Hubble Space Telescope and the following year selected it for New Horizon’s lengthy mission.

Since the probe flies 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers ) above Thule’s surface, scientists hope it will discover the chemical composition of its atmosphere and terrain in what NASA says are the closest monitoring of a human body so remote.

“We are straining the capabilities of the spacecraft, and by tomorrow we’ll understand how we did,” Stern told reporters on Monday. “There are no second chances for New Horizons.”

While the mission marks the close encounter of an object within our solar system, NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2, a set of deep-space probes launched in 1977, have reached greater distances on a mission to questionnaire extrasolar bodies. The two probes are still functional.

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