On Jan. 1, 2019, NASA’s New Horizons space probe flew by an object in the Kuiper Belt officially known as 2014 MU69, but unofficially nicknamed “Ultima-Thule“. The spacecraft was launched on Jan 19, 2006, and was slated to do a Fly-by on the planet of Pluto. Having completed its mission in July of 2015, the New Horizon craft kept on its course and reached what is now considered to be the furthest explored area of space by Humankind, the Kuiper Belt.
The Kuiper Belt vastly made up of frozen volatiles, such as Methane, Ammonia, and water. In addition to these objects, there are asteroids of rock and metal, that scientists believe have formed out of the creating of our solar system. Think of the Kuiper belt as a giant version of the asteroid belts we learned of in school. Though this belt actually surrounds our solar system.
Ultima-Thule is bringing more questions to scientists rather than answers. Shaped like a snowman with the bottom portion some 20 miles in diameter, the object seems to be lacking a traditional “light Curve”. This is baffling to team studying the object because the light’s curve is what makes these objects visible to us in space. Another feature that makes the object unique is the ring that separates the two lobes, which itself is brighter than either half. Furthermore, the object has dust clouds and smaller satellite object orbiting it. This is interesting as scientists usually observe this on asteroids that are warmer and closer to a light source, such as our sun.
The New Horizon interplanetary probe became famous in the public eyes after reaching Pluto in 2015. The close fly-by’s gave us some of the most spectacular photos we have of Pluto and its moons. Upon exploration of the heart-shaped area pluto, scientists found newly formed mountains that are as tall as 11,000 ft. And as new as 100 million years. Another discovery is that the moon named Hydra has a coated surface of water ice. While that is phenomenal, Charon, is very active creating new ridges upon its surface.
It will take the next 20 months for the space probe to send all of its data back to earth. This being the furthest we have journeyed in space, leaves me excited to see what is hidden within that information. Hopefully, we will get a better understanding of our Milky Way galaxy. In the meantime, check out the links below to see photos and information from NASA regarding the 13-year mission.