NASA announcement: New Horizons set for historic flyby TOMORROW

New Horizons MU69 flyby

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will zip past the scrawny, icy object nicknamed Ultima Thule (TOO-lee) soon after the stroke of midnight.

New Horizons will continue to zoom farther away. It could be surrounded by a cloud of dust or gas that scatters its light, preventing New Horizons from seeing a discernible light curve.

The first signal back to Earth should come about 10 hours after the flyby, around 9:45 am (1445 GMT).

Cheers erupted at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, home to mission control.

A huge spill-over crowd in a nearby auditorium joined in the loud celebration, cheering each green, or good, status update.

JJ Kavelaars, a science team member and astronomer with the National Research Council in Canada, said New Horizons has now verified that the object is spinning, but it's not yet clear at what speed.

Mission operations manager Alice Bowman added: "The spacecraft is healthy and we're excited!"

'Ultima was formed in the middle of the Kuiper Belt, where temperatures are close to absolute zero, ' Stern wrote. "So stay tuned. There are no second chances for New Horizons".

"What could be more exciting than that?" said project scientist Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins University, part of the New Horizons team. "The data we have look fantastic and we're already learning about Ultima from up close".

"It's the first glimpse of what's going to get rapidly better from here on - it's our first taste", Spencer said. Eastern. That initial transmission contained no science data but rather telemetry about the health of the spacecraft and its performance during the flyby, including how much data it collected.

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"We set a record".

This illustration provided by NASA shows the New Horizons spacecraft. "I mean, think of it".

On Monday, he told reporters during a news briefing "I'd be kidding you if I didn't tell you we're also on pins and needles to see how this turns out".

Scientists say Ultima Thule represents a class of objects known as "cold classicals" in the Kuiper Belt, a broad stretch of icy material beyond the orbit of Neptune. Its irregular shape recalls two rock smashed together, like a snowman without a head.

If New Horizons sounds familiar, it's because this is the spacecraft that conducted a historic flyby of Pluto in 2015, sending back unprecedented images of the dwarf planet and revealing new details about Pluto and its moons.

However, it will take around 20 months for the probe to send back all of the information it has gathered during the flyby of Ultima Thule. New Horizons passed within a few thousand miles of the oblong space rock known as Ultima Thule just after the calendar page turned to 2019 on the East Coast, and it's a huge achievement for the space agency and astronomy community in general.

"Asteroids, comets and other small bodies hold material from the solar system's birth".

"This is completely unknown territory, which is what makes us all so excited at this moment."

The exact shape and composition won't be known until Ultima Thule starts sending back data in a process expected to last nearly two years.

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