clearn.png
Thursday November 26th, 2020 9:57PM

NASA spacecraft opens new year 4 billion miles from Earth

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

LAUREL, Md. (AP) — NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has survived the most distant exploration of another world, a tiny, icy object 4 billion miles away that looks to be shaped like a peanut or bowling pin.

Word of success came 10 hours after the middle-of-the-night encounter, once flight controllers in Maryland received word from the spacecraft late Tuesday morning. Cheers erupted at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, home to Mission Control, as mission operations manager Alice Bowman declared: "We have a healthy spacecraft."

A huge spill-over crowd in a nearby auditorium joined in the loud celebration, cheering each green, or good, status update. Scientists and other team members embraced, while hundreds of others gave a standing ovation.

"I don't know about all of you, but I'm really liking this 2019 thing so far," lead scientist Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute said to applause. "I'm here to tell you that last night, overnight, the United States spacecraft New Horizons conducted the farthest exploration in the history of humankind, and did so spectacularly."

New Horizons zoomed past the small celestial object known as Ultima Thule 3 ½ years after its spectacular brush with Pluto. Scientists said it will take nearly two years for New Horizons to beam back all its observations of Ultima Thule, a full billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto. At that distance, it takes six hours for the radio signals to reach Earth.

Scientists did not want to interrupt observations as New Horizons swept past Ultima Thule — described as a bullet intersecting with another bullet — so they delayed radio transmissions. The spacecraft is believed to have come within 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of Ultima Thule.

Weary from dual countdowns late Monday and early Tuesday, the New Horizons team members were visibly anxious as they reassembled in late morning. "Happy New Year again," they bid one another. But the hundreds of spectators went wild nonetheless when the good news came in.

New Horizons' 2015 encounter with Pluto was the most distant exploration until Tuesday. The Ultima Thule rendezvous was more complicated, given its 4 billion-mile (6.4 billion-kilometer) distance from Earth, the much closer gap between the spacecraft and its target, and all the unknowns surrounding Ultima Thule.

Based on rudimentary pictures snapped just hundreds of thousands of miles (kilometers) before the 12:33 a.m. close approach, Ultima Thule is decidedly elongated — about 22 miles by 9 miles (35 kilometers by 15 kilometers). Scientists say there are two possibilities: Ultima Thule is either one object with two connected lobes, sort of like a spinning bowling pin or peanut still in the shell, or two objects orbiting surprisingly close to one another. A single body is more likely, they noted. An answer should be forthcoming Wednesday, once new and better pictures arrive. The best color close-ups, though, won't be available until later in January and February.

The icy rock has been in a deep-freeze preservation state since the formation of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists hope to learn about those origins through New Horizons' observations deep inside the so-called Kuiper Belt, or frozen Twilight Zone, on the fringes of the solar system.

New Horizons will continue to zoom farther away. The hope is that the mission, now totaling $800 million, will be extended yet again and another target will be forthcoming sometime in the 2020s.

Ultima Thule is the first destination to be reached that was not even known until after the spacecraft's launch. New Horizons rocketed from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2006.

____

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, AP Business
© Copyright 2020 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
The Latest: 2 more dead found in Russian building collapse
Russian rescue crews have pulled two more bodies from the rubble of a collapsed apartment building, bringing the death toll to nine
12:59PM ( 9 minutes ago )
NASA spacecraft opens new year 4 billion miles from Earth
A NASA spacecraft opens the new year at the most distant world ever explored, a billion miles beyond Pluto
12:51PM ( 16 minutes ago )
Brazil's Bolsonaro assumes office amid big hopes and fears
Far-right former army captain Jair Bolsonaro took office as Brazil's president Tuesday, promising to overhaul many aspects of life in Latin America's largest nation
12:42PM ( 26 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
NASA spacecraft opens new year at tiny, icy world past Pluto
A NASA spacecraft opens the new year at the most distant world ever explored, a billion miles beyond Pluto
11:29AM ( 1 hour ago )
Changes may be ahead for criticized Georgia election system
A commission tasked with examining potential replacements for Georgia's outdated and much-criticized election system is preparing to make recommendations to lawmakers.
9:22AM ( 3 hours ago )
Infant pulled alive from Russian apartment collapse
Russian rescuers on Tuesday pulled an infant boy alive from the rubble of an apartment building, some 35 hours after a collapse that killed at least seven people and left dozens missing
8:51AM ( 4 hours ago )
AP National News
Times Square crowd braves rain to bid wet welcome to 2019
Rain drops were falling along with confetti as revelers rang in 2019 in New York's Times Square, capping a soggy New Year's Eve celebration that included singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha's stirring rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine."
1:28AM ( 11 hours ago )
NASA spacecraft hurtles toward tiny, icy world beyond Pluto
A NASA spacecraft opens the new year at the most distant world ever explored, a billion miles beyond Pluto
12:35AM ( 12 hours ago )
Brazil's Bolsonaro to take power amid high hopes and fears
Former army captain Jair Bolsonaro is taking office as Brazil's president Tuesday promising to overhaul many aspects of life in Latin America's largest nation
12:09AM ( 12 hours ago )
AP Online National News
AP Business
The Latest: 2 more dead found in Russian building collapse
Russian rescue crews have pulled two more bodies from the rubble of a collapsed apartment building, bringing the death toll to nine
12:59PM ( 9 minutes ago )
Brazil's Bolsonaro assumes office amid big hopes and fears
Far-right former army captain Jair Bolsonaro took office as Brazil's president Tuesday, promising to overhaul many aspects of life in Latin America's largest nation
12:42PM ( 26 minutes ago )
Fireworks, superstars ring in the new year in Las Vegas
Crowds on the Las Vegas Strip, in nightclubs and other entertainment hotspots in Sin City celebrated the new year with fireworks, performances and a midnight toast
12:38PM ( 30 minutes ago )
The Latest: Brazil's Bolsonaro sworn in a president
Tough-talking former army captain Jair Bolsonaro has been sworn in as Brazil's president
12:23PM ( 45 minutes ago )
The Latest: Crowds smaller than expected for Brazil ceremony
Much smaller crowds than expected appeared to be gathering in Brasilia for the inauguration of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro
12:05PM ( 1 hour ago )