New Horizons encounters Ultima Thule (photo: NASA)NASA's New Horizons probe has successfully flown by the most distant object in the Solar System ever visited. M69, renamed Ultima Thule, is a tiny world lying within what is known as the Kuiper Belt. It lies some 6.5 billion kilometres (4 billion miles) from Earth. On New Year's Day 2019, New Horizons passed about 3500 kilometres (2000 miles) from Ultima's icy surface to take a series of photos and other data. Travelling at at 51,000 km/h (32,000 mph), it took less than 24 hours to whiz past. There was some concern that Ultima might be surrounded by boulders, any one of which could destroy the probe if it were to collide with them. But none was detected, so the mission planners decided it was safe for the probe to stay on its existing flightpath.
New Horizons space probe (NASA)
Launched in January 2006, New Horizons used a flyby of the giant planet Jupiter in February 2007 to gain speed. It then travelled on towards its primary target, the dwarf planet Pluto and its five moons. After completing a 5-billion-kilometre (3-billion-mile) journey, it arrived on 14th July 2015. The data beamed back to Earth took more than four hours to reach mission control, even though its signals were transmitted at the speed of light.
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