NASA spacecraft spots its next destination billions of kilometres from Earth
New Horizons flew past Pluto in 2015, now it's on its way to another icy world
A NASA spacecraft that explored Pluto has spotted its next target on the outskirts of our solar system.
This week NASA revealed pictures taken by New Horizons earlier this month of a tiny icy world known as Ultima Thule. New Horizons is aiming for a flyby on New Year's Day. It will be humanity's most distant exploration of a celestial body, 6.4 billion kilometres from Earth and 1.6 billion kilometres beyond Pluto.
In 2015 New Horizons became the first spacecraft to visit Pluto. Ultima Thule is minuscule by comparison, an estimated 30 kilometres across. Scientists were surprised New Horizons could detect it from 155 million kilometres out.
"Our team worked hard to determine if Ultima was detected … at such a great distance, and the result is a clear yes," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "We now have Ultima in our sights from much farther out than once thought possible. We are on Ultima's doorstep, and an amazing exploration awaits."
The pictures are the farthest ever taken, with more to come.