NASA’s New Horizons mission performed an unprecedented course correction maneuver, which brings it even closer to Ultima Thule, one of the most mysterious objects located at the confines of our solar system, inside the so-called Kuiper Belt.
New Horizons is expected to reach its ‘target’ in January of 2019.
As reported by NASA, “With just 29 days to go before making space exploration history, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft performed a short but record-setting course-correction maneuver on Dec. 2 that refined its path toward Ultima Thule, the Kuiper Belt object it will fly by on Jan. 1.”
“As the New Horizons spacecraft closes in on its target, Ultima Thule is getting brighter and brighter in the LORRI optical navigation images,” said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
“It’s now standing out much more clearly among the sea of background stars.”
After performing course corrections, the spacecraft has beamed back another glimpse of the distant, icy body it will fly past just three weeks from now.
The new image of ‘Ultima Thule’ was snapped by Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera at around midnight EST (0500 GMT) on Dec. 1.
At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was located 24 million miles (38.7 million kilometers) from Ultima and more than 4 billion miles (6.4 billion km) away from Earth, mission scientists revealed.
From that distance, radio signals carrying data from the ship take around six hours, traveling at the speed of light, to successfully arrive back to Earth.
Just as Ultima Thule’s exploration will be the furthest distance a spacecraft has traveled to visit a cosmic body in our solar system, the recent course correction maneuver was the furthest trajectory correction ever made.
New Horizons fired its small thrusters for 105 seconds, adjusting its speed by just over 1 meter per second.
Data from the ship that confirmed the course correction arrived at the New Horizons Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, through NASA’s Deep Space Network.
“Ultima Thule will be the most primitive planetary object explored, and will reveal what conditions were like in this distant part of the solar system as it formed from the solar nebula,” Nasa revealed in excitement.