NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft rang in the New Year by making history: the first flyby of an object in the Kuiper Belt in the extreme outer solar system.
This is a historic flyby of the farthest, and quite possibly the oldest, a cosmic body ever explored by humankind.
Ultima Thule is located in the Kuiper belt in the outermost regions of the Solar System, beyond the orbit of Neptune.
It measures approximately 30 km in diameter and is irregularly shaped.
Ultima Thule has a reddish color, probably caused by exposure of hydrocarbons to sunlight over billions of years.
Ultima Thule belongs to a class of Kuiper belt objects called the “cold classical”, which have nearly circular orbits with low inclinations to the solar plane.
New Horizons was launched on 19 January 2006 and has been traveling through space for the past nine years. New Horizon’s core science mission is to map the surfaces of Pluto and Charon, to study Pluto’s atmosphere and to take temperature readings.