A NASA explorer is believed to have reached the solar system’s outermost region early Tuesday morning, flying close to a space rock twenty miles long and billions of miles from Earth on a mission to gather clues about the creation of the solar system.
The body is farther from Earth than any other that has had such a close encounter with a NASA probe, scientists believe.
The New Horizons probe was slated to reach the “third zone” in the uncharted heart of the Kuiper Belt at 12:33 a.m. Eastern. Scientists won’t have confirmation of its successful arrival till the probe communicates its whereabouts through NASA’s deep space Network at 10:28 a.m. Eastern, about ten hours later.
Once it enters the peripheral layer of the belt, containing icy bodies and leftover fragments from the solar system’s creation, the probe can get its 1st close-up glance of ultima Thule, a cool mass shaped like a large peanut, using seven on-board instruments.
Scientists had not discovered ultima Thule when the probe was launched, according to NASA, creating the mission unique in that respect. In 2014, astronomers found Thule using Hubble Space Telescope and Selected it for New Horizon’s Extended Mission in 2015.
“Anything’s possible out there during this very unknown region,” John Spencer, deputy project scientist for new Horizons, told reporters on Mon at the Johns Hopkins Applied physics lab in Maryland.
Launched in January 2006, New Horizons embarked on a four billion mile journey toward the solar system’s frigid edge to study the dwarf planet Pluto and its 5 moons.
During 2015 fly-by, the probe found Pluto to be slightly Bigger than previously thought. In March, it revealed that Methane rich dunes were on Icy Dwarf Planet’s Surface.
After trekking one billion miles beyond Pluto into the Kuiper Belt, New Horizons will now look for clues regarding the formation of the solar system and its planets.
As the probe flies 2,200 miles (3,500 km) above Thule’s surface, scientists hope it’ll detect the chemical composition of its atmosphere and terrain in what NASA says will be the nearest observation of a body so remote.
“We are straining the capabilities of this craft, and by tomorrow we’ll know how we did,” New Horizons scientist Alan Stern said during the press conference at the Johns Hopkins Applied physics lab in Maryland. “There are no second possibilities for new Horizons.”
While the mission marks the farthest close-encounter of an object inside our solar system, NASA’s voyager 1 and 2, a combine of deep space probes launched in 1977, have reached greater distances on a mission to survey extra solar bodies. each Probes are still working properly.