NASA's Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
January 3, 2019
Press Briefing: The Ultima Thule Flyby
View slides from press conference »
Data from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which explored Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule earlier this week, is yielding scientific discoveries daily. Among the findings made by the mission science team in the past day are:
"The first exploration of a small Kuiper Belt object and the most distant exploration of any world in history is now history, but almost all of the data analysis lies in the future," said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Data transmission from New Horizons will pause for about a week while the spacecraft passes behind the sun as seen from here on Earth. Data transmission resumes Jan. 10, starting a 20-month download of the spacecraft's remaining scientific treasures.
"Those of us on the science team can't wait to begin to start digging into that treasure trove," said Stern.
New Horizons completed the farthest flyby in history when it came within about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of Ultima Thule at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1, zooming past the object at more than 32,000 miles (51,000 kilometers) per hour.
The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtags #UltimaThule, #UltimaFlyby and #askNewHorizons to join the conversation. Live updates and links to mission information are also available on http://pluto.jhuapl.edu and www.nasa.gov.
The New Horizons science team created the first stereo image pair of Ultima Thule. This image can be viewed with stereo glasses to reveal the Kuiper Belt object's three-dimensional shape. The images that created the stereo pair were taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at 4:23 and 5:01 Universal Time on January 1, 2019 from respective ranges of 38,000 miles (61,000 kilometers) and 17,000 miles (28,000 kilometers), with respective original scales of 1017 feet (310 meters) and 459 feet (140 meters) per pixel.
In this animated GIF of Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule made from two images taken 38 minutes apart, the "Thule" lobe is closest to the New Horizons spacecraft. As Ultima Thule is seen to rotate, hints of the topography can be perceived. The images were taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at 4:23 and 5:01 Universal Time on January 1, 2019 from respective ranges of 38,000 miles (61,000 kilometers) and 17,000 miles (28,000 kilometers), with respective original scales of 1017 feet (310 meters) and 459 feet (140 meters) per pixel.