NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, constructed and operated by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in North Laurel, is set to conduct the farthest planetary flyby in history on Jan. 1, 2019.
The spacecraft will pass about 2,200 miles from Ultima Thule, a Kuiper Belt Object 1 billion miles beyond Pluto, at a speed of approximately 31,500 miles per hour. As in the Pluto flyby, researchers expect to use onboard instruments to study the object and learn more about its composition and surface features.
Writing on the NASA New Horizons blog on Dec. 20, Principal Investigator Alan Stern said Ultima Thule is not large enough to have a geologic engine like Pluto and larger planets because of where it was formed.
“We expect that Ultima is the most well-preserved sample of a planetary building block ever explored,” he wrote. “In effect, Ultima should be a valuable window into the early stages of planet formation and what the solar system was like over 4.5 billion years ago.”
Learn more about the mission here.