NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is one of the most successful space probes in recent history, sending us the first ever high-resolution images of Pluto. But that was back in 2015, and since then New Horizons has been preparing for its next adventure: a flyby of an asteroid even further away than Pluto, recently nicknamed Ultima Thule.
On Monday, New Horizons woke up from its months-long hibernation in preparation for the final approach to Ultima Thule, scheduled for New Years Day 2019. With only about seven months until the big day, New Horizons will spend as much time as possible running diagnostics and checking systems to make sure everything works as planned.
NASA received a signal from New Horizons at 2:12 a.m. Eastern on June 5, proving that the spacecraft was alive and emerged from hibernation. Over the past few days, the New Horizons team has been collecting navigation data from the spacecraft so they can pinpoint its exact location and prepare for the final approach.
Over the next few months, the New Horizons team will start making long-distance observations of Ultima Thule, and use those observations plus the navigation data to make minor course corrections before the flyby. Then, the spacecraft will send back the remaining data it’s collected over the past few years drifting in the space around Pluto.
At that point, there’s nothing left for the team to do but get ready for the big day. Once New Horizons makes its flyby of Ultima Thule, we’ll get the furthest pictures ever taken, and scientists will use the information they receive to learn as much as they can about the objects in the outer reaches of our solar system.
Previously published by: Popular Mechanics USA