Now the device is 6.5 billion kilometers from Earth.Asteroid Ultima Thule as an artist. Photo by NASA
On January 1, the automatic interplanetary probe New Horizons reached themost distant object of the Solar system that people have ever investigated. At 5:33 am GMT (8:33 Moscow time), the device approached the asteroid Ultima Thule (“The End of the World”) at a minimum distance of 3,500 kilometers.
Astronomers still have not had the opportunity to get clear pictures of this celestial body. The task is complicated by the fact that the asteroid has a very small size – about 30 kilometers. The probe flies to it at a speed of 14 km / s, and engineers carry out adjustments at a distance of 6.62 billion kilometers. The radio signal takes 6 hours and 8 minutes to reach the unit.
Ultima Thule is located in the Kuiper belt and is supposed to consist mainly of dust and ice. It has an extremely dark surface (reflects only 10% of the light), making it difficult to detect. Optics New Horizons will see the elements on the surface of an asteroid of up to 30 meters.
To conduct a survey, the probe will have to turn around the antenna from the Earth, because of which the first data from it will arrive not earlier than 15:28 GMT. At this time, the flight can no longer be adjusted. The risk of the mission is that even with a minor error in the calculations, astronomers will receive only images of empty space.