Ultima Thule sounds like a superhero or a metal rock band. It is heroic, in a way, and it is rock.
To welcome in 2019, just after the Earthly celebrations, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by Ultima Thule. Formerly known by the very un-superhero names Kuiper Belt Object an 2014 MU69, Ultima Thule is the farthest object that any craft has ever visited. It is a tiny fragment of the early solar system.
New Horizons successfully “phoned home” at 10:28 a.m. EST, letting NASA scientists know all of its systems survived the flyby of Ultima Thule. The first real images will now slowly trickle in over the coming hours and days.
I view this as wonderful an awesome is the true wonder and awe senses of those words.
Maybe even more amazing is that New Horizons will send information back to Earth. I don’t even get a good WiFi signal when I bring my laptop upstairs to the bedroom. The New Horizons exploratory spacecraft is about four billion miles (6.6 billion km) from us. Wow. It takes about a bit more than six hours for the signals to reach NASA’s Deep Space Network.
On New Year’s Day morning, New Horizons signaled that it had made the flyby unharmed.
Some may dismiss all this about a far-out space rock as trivial. How does it help me in my daily life? I can’t speak intelligently on the scientific data obtained and how it will be used, but I see great value in us pushing further and knowing more about what is “out there” and where it all came from. And if that doesn’t fit into your view of science and religion, I guess we’ll just have to disagree.
Updates on New Horizons at http://pluto.jhuapl.edu and NASA’s mission to Pluto
and the Kuiper Belt from The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory