David Grinspoon (@DrFunkySpoon): New Horizons’ flyby of Ultima Thule, an ancient Kuiper Belt object (KBO) on the far edge of our solar system, on Jan 1. It has multiple instruments on board, including LORRI, “the eagle eyes of the spacecraft.”

Dec 06, 07:18 AM

Photo: New Horizons

Permissions: NASA

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David Grinspoon (@DrFunkySpoon), Senior Scientist, Planetary Science Institute; Adjunct Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Science, University of Colorado; in re: New Horizons’ flyby of Ultima Thule on January 1. “Before it zips past the strange Kuiper Belt object, New Horizons is already busy at work giving astronomers a clearer picture of its target.”

“This New Year’s, the New Horizons spacecraft will make a historic flyby of Ultima Thule — an ancient Kuiper Belt object (KBO) located on the far edge of our solar system. The exciting findings of this mission will not be limited to New Year’s — scientists have been and will continue to collect data from this mission and there will be plenty of groundbreaking updates both before and after the flyby actually occurs. In anticipation of the flyby, scientists are using instruments on board the craft to monitor brightness variations to try to figure out the size, shape, and rotation of the object. They're searching for moons, surveying the surrounding area for debris and other objects, and refining navigation to best observe the object while protecting the craft, Hal Weaver, a New Horizons project scientist, said at a press conference at the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society 50th annual meeting.

The New Horizons spacecraft has a number of instruments on board, including LORRI, “the eagle eyes of the spacecraft,” Weaver said, describing the high-resolution camera; a massive radio dish, an infrared spectral imager, an ultraviolet spectral imager, and three separate instruments used for measuring different types of particles. Scientists have been using them to collect data and will continue to do so through the flyby.