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Tampa | The historical overview by a probe of the Nasa of a celestial object, the most distant ever studied, is expected at the turn 2018-2019: New Horizons is expected to pass, on the day of the Year, stormed over to Ultima Thule, the object gravitating to some 6.4 billion kilometres away from us.
Ultima Thule, relic ice of the beginnings of the solar system, is about the size of the u.s. capital Washington and orbits in the Kuiper belt, located at about a billion kilometres beyond the dwarf planet Pluto.
The probe New Horizons should pass as close to the top of the space object on the 1st of January. In the meantime, the composition and the form of the Ultima Thule are a mystery.
Ultima Thule is ” a time capsule that will take us back four and a half billion years ago, at the birth of the solar system “, said on Friday at a press briefing Alan Stern, the senior project manager at Southwest Research Institute.
The probe uninhabited New Horizons is going into “safe mode” on the 26th of December and is ” in very good condition “, he added.
Onboard, a camera zooms in on Ultima Thule, so that scientists can get a better idea of its shape and configuration – whether it is one or more objects.
“We have never seen an object like this before,” said Kelsi Singer, co-New Horizons at the Southwest Research Institute. About a day before, ” we will begin to see the true shape of the object “.
To get in touch with the ship if far away from the earth, scientists must be patient: six hours and 8 minutes of communication delay, in each direction.
The communication indicating that New Horizons has survived its flyby at only 3500 km of this space object is expected.
And the Nasa scientists are eagerly awaiting the first images.
“Because it is a flyby mission, we only have a chance of getting there,” said Alice Bowman, New Horizons.
The probe – launched in 2006 – had sent stunning images of Pluto in 2015, some revealing a heart shape which had never been seen on its surface.
In the meantime, New Horizons continues to travel through the universe at 51 500 kilometers per hour, carrying about 1.6 million km per day.