Today is not just the beginning of a new year. It’s also the beginning of the exploration of a brand-new world in the Solar System. NASA’s New Horizons has now reached its second target, after Pluto, a 30-kilometer (20-mile) object nicknamed Ultima Thule, like the mythical land of old.
The interplanetary spacecraft reached Ultima Thule at 12:33 am EST but given that it’s 6.6 billion kilometers (4.11 billion miles) from Earth, the “phone home” radio signal is yet to arrive. And NASA will broadcast the arrival live.
The observation of Ultima Thule is full of records. It’s the first close-up observation a small object from the Kuiper Belt, the region of the Solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune. It is also the first exploration of an object unknown at the time of launch. And it is the furthest exploration of a world ever conducted by humanity.
If you’re like us and can’t wait to know more about this, you can follow the official NASA Livestream below or on NASA TV. From 10:15 am EST (3:15 pm GMT), you can wait with the members of the team for the reception of the first signals and data from the spacecraft.
At 11:45 am EST, NASA will host a post-flyby press briefing where members of the team such as Alan Stern, Alice Bowman, Hal Weaver, and Chris Hersman, will update all of us on the status of the spacecraft, the latest images, and the data download schedule.
Ultima Thule is believed to be a primordial member of the Kuiper Belt. Although the flyby is brief, it will take until September 2020 to download all the observation data. Over the next 20 months, the information collected by New Horizons will open a new window into the earliest days of the Solar System.