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In the hours before the flyby, radio signals were beamed from Earth toward the spacecraft in hopes of getting reflected readings relating to Ultima's composition.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which built and operates the spacecraft, said Tuesday it had "zipped past" the object known as 2014 MU69, or Ultima Thule. Instead, hundreds of team members and their guests gathered nearby on campus for back-to-back countdowns. During one of tonight's pre-flyby panels, he noted that NASA was spending $6 billion over the course of a decade on missions targeting small celestial bodies, including Ultima Thule as well as an assortment of asteroids.

"We are ready to science the heck out of Ultima Thule", Stern said.

"We set a record". The close encounter will mark the farthest spacecraft flyby in history.

Seven scientific instruments were reprogrammed to observe Ultima Thule and its environment.

The mission also offers to sign up for New Horizons on Twitter, where you can join the conversation using the hashtags #UltimaThule, #UltimaFlyby and #askNewHorizons. Then the spacecraft was to turn briefly toward Earth to transmit word of its success.

The photo and additional info were taken from a little distance away.

It was discovered in 2014 with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, and is believed to be up to 32km in size. Traveling at 50,700 kilometres per hour, the spacecraft could easily be knocked out by a rice-size particle. That's three times closer than New Horizons's encounter with Pluto. "By tomorrow, we'll know how we did".

There are several ways to track this exciting New Horizons event.

The risk added to the excitement. The probe will launch ahead of the new year. The amount of light it gives off is completely flat, and mission team doesn't know why! "New Horizons is on the hunt to understand these objects, and we invite everyone to ring in the next year with the excitement of exploring the unknown". "New Horizons will swoop over Ultima and take high-resolution images on December 31 and January 1, and the first of those images will be available on Earth just a day later". In the newly released image, which the team received on Sunday (Dec. 30), Ultima is a few pixels wide.

A highly processed image, acquired 37 hours before the flyby, showed a fuzzy view of what appeared to be an elongated object that's been compared to a peanut.

Now a billion miles beyond Pluto, New Horizons will fly by Ultima just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) from the object's surface, providing the first close-up look at what scientists consider to be one of the ancient building blocks of the planets.

Ultima Thule will therefore be the most primitive planetary object yet explored, and will reveal to us what conditions were like in this distant part of the Solar System as it condensed from the solar nebula. Ultima Thule essentially means "beyond Thule", which suggests something that lies beyond what is known. It is thought to be potato-shaped and dark-colored with a touch of red, possibly from being zapped by cosmic rays for eons.

'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'. "We'll find out Tuesday". "The Ultima Thule flyby is going to be fast, it's going to be challenging, and it's going to yield new knowledge", Alan Stern, the principal investigator for the New Horizons mission, wrote in a blog post.


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