New Horizons Kuiper Belt Flyby Object Officially Named ‘Arrokoth’

This composite image of the primordial contact binary Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule) – featured on the cover of the May 17 issue of the journal Science – was compiled from data obtained by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it flew by the object on Jan. 1, 2019. The image combines enhanced color data (close to what the human eye would see) with detailed high-resolution panchromatic pictures. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Roman Tkachenko)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In a fitting tribute to the farthest flyby ever conducted by spacecraft, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 has been officially named Arrokoth, a Native American term meaning “sky” in the Powhatan/Algonquian language. 

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NASA’s New Horizons Team Publishes First Kuiper Belt Flyby Science Results

This composite image of the primordial contact binary Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule) – featured on the cover of the May 17 issue of the journal Science – was compiled from data obtained by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it flew by the object on Jan. 1, 2019. The image combines enhanced color data (close to what the human eye would see) with detailed high-resolution panchromatic pictures. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Roman Tkachenko)

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-s-new-horizons-team-publishes-first-kuiper-belt-flyby-science-results

NASA’s New Horizons mission team has published the first profile of the farthest world ever explored, a planetary building block and Kuiper Belt object called 2014 MU69.

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See Ultima Thule in 3D

Flicker: Just watch and enjoy! (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory)

LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — Cross your eyes and break out the 3D glasses! NASA’s New Horizons team has created new stereo views of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule – the target of the New Horizons spacecraft’s historic New Year’s 2019 flyby, four billion miles from Earth – and the images are as cool and captivating as they are scientifically valuable.

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New Horizons Spacecraft Returns Its Sharpest Views of Ultima Thule

The most detailed images of Ultima Thule — obtained just minutes before the spacecraft’s closest approach at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1 — have a resolution of about 110 feet (33 meters) per pixel. Their combination of higher spatial resolution and a favorable viewing geometry offer an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the surface of Ultima Thule, believed to be the most primitive object ever encountered by a spacecraft. This processed, composite picture combines nine individual images taken with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), each with an exposure time of 0.025 seconds, just 6 ½ minutes before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69). The image was taken at 5:26 UT (12:26 a.m. EST) on Jan. 1, 2019, when the spacecraft was 4,109 miles (6,628 kilometers) from Ultima Thule and 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth. The angle between the spacecraft, Ultima Thule and the Sun – known as the “phase angle” – was 33 degrees. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute, National Optical Astronomy Observatory)

LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — The mission team called it a “stretch goal” – just before closest approach, precisely pointing the cameras on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft to snap the sharpest possible pictures of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule, its New Year’s flyby targetand the farthest object ever explored.

Now that New Horizons has sent those stored flyby images back to Earth, the team can enthusiastically confirm that its ambitious goal was met.

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New Movie Shows Ultima Thule from an Approaching New Horizons


LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — This movie shows the propeller-like rotation of Ultima Thule in the seven hours between 20:00 UT (3 p.m. ET) on Dec. 31, 2018, and 05:01 UT (12:01 a.m.) on Jan. 1, 2019, as seen by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons as the spacecraft sped toward its close encounter with the Kuiper Belt object at 05:33 UT (12:33 a.m. ET) on Jan. 1.

During this deep-space photo shoot – part of the farthest planetary flyby in history – New Horizons’ range to Ultima Thule decreased from 310,000 miles (500,000 kilometers, farther than the distance from the Earth to the Moon) to just 17,100 miles (28,000 kilometers), during which the images became steadily larger and more detailed. The team processed two different image sequences; the bottom sequence shows the images at their original relative sizes, while the top corrects for the changing distance, so that Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69) appears at constant size but becomes more detailed as the approach progresses.


All the images have been sharpened using scientific techniques that enhance detail. The original image scale is 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) per pixel in the first frame, and 0.08 miles (0.14 kilometers) per pixel in the last frame. The rotation period of Ultima Thule is about 16 hours, so the movie covers a little under half a rotation. Among other things, the New Horizons science team will use these images to help determine the three-dimensional shape of Ultima Thule, in order to better understand its nature and origin.

The raw images included in the movie are available on the New Horizons LORRI website. New Horizons downlinked the two highest-resolution images in this movie immediately after the Jan. 1 flyby, but the more distant images were sent home on Jan. 12-14, after a week when New Horizons was too close to the Sun (from Earth’s point of view) for reliable communications. New Horizons will continue to transmit images – including its closest views of Ultima Thule – and data for the next many months.

Image credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory











New Horizons Successfully Flies By Ultima Thule

At left is a composite of two images taken by New Horizons’ high-resolution Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), which provides the best indication of Ultima Thule’s size and shape so far. Preliminary measurements of this Kuiper Belt object suggest it is approximately 20 miles long by 10 miles wide (32 kilometers by 16 kilometers). An artist’s impression at right illustrates one possible appearance of Ultima Thule, based on the actual image at left. The direction of Ultima’s spin axis is indicated by the arrows. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI; sketch courtesy of James Tuttle Keane)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past Ultima Thule in the early hours of New Year’s Day, ushering in the era of exploration from the enigmatic Kuiper Belt, a region of primordial objects that holds keys to understanding the origins of the solar system.

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Hubble Paved the Way for the New Horizons Mission to Pluto and Ultima Thule

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope discovered the next target for the New Horizons spacecraft — 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule — in June 2014. Seen in these five overlaid images, the object resides more than one billion miles beyond Pluto in the frigid outer reaches of the Kuiper Belt. New Horizons will reach Ultima Thule on New Year’s Day 2019. (Credit: NASA/STScI/JHUAPL/SwRI)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — Years before a team of researchers proposed a mission called New Horizons to explore the dwarf planet Pluto, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope had already made initial observations of the world at the dim outer fringes of our celestial neighborhood. Over many years, Hubble’s pioneering observations repeatedly accomplished what ground-based telescopes could not — imaging features on Pluto’s surface, finding new Plutonian moons, and tracking down a destination to visit after Pluto — an even tinier, icy object in a vast region of small worlds beyond the orbit of Neptune called the Kuiper Belt.

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New Horizons Scientists Puzzled by Lack of ‘Light Curve’ from Ultima Thule

Video Caption: NASA’s New Horizons team trained mobile telescopes on an unnamed star (circled) from a remote area of Argentina on July 17, 2017. A Kuiper Belt object 4.1 billion miles from Earth — known as 2014 MU69 — briefly blocked the light from the background star, in what’s known as an occultation. The time difference between frames is 200 milliseconds, or 0.2 seconds. This data will help scientists better measure the shape, size and environment around the object. The New Horizons spacecraft will fly by this ancient relic of solar system formation on Jan. 1, 2019. It will be the most distant object ever explored by a spacecraft.

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is bearing down on Ultima Thule, its New Year’s flyby target in the far away Kuiper Belt. Among its approach observations over the past three months, the spacecraft has been taking hundreds of images to measure Ultima’s brightness and how it varies as the object rotates.

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All About Ultima: New Horizons Flyby Target is Unlike Anything Explored in Space

This is the first detection of Ultima Thule using the highest resolution mode of the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard the New Horizons spacecraft. Three separate images, each with an exposure time of 0.5 seconds, were combined to produce the image. All three images were taken on Dec. 24, when Ultima was 4 billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) from the Sun and 6.3 million miles (10 million kilometers) from the New Horizons spacecraft. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is set to fly by a distant “worldlet” 4 billion miles from the Sun in just six days, on New Year’s Day 2019. The target, officially designated 2014 MU69, was nicknamed “Ultima Thule,” a Latin phrase meaning “a place beyond the known world,” after a public call for name recommendations. No spacecraft has ever explored such a distant world.

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How to Follow the New Horizons Flyby of Ultima Thule

Artist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft encountering 2014 MU69, a Kuiper Belt object that orbits the Sun 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto, on Jan. 1, 2019. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Where to Watch
(Courtesy JHUAPL)

A schedule of televised events is below; all times EST and subject to change according to mission timelines and activities. Keep checking back for updates and additions!

Alternate Viewing

Should the federal government shutdown continue through New Horizons’ Ultima Thule flyby – and NASA TV, nasa.gov and other agency digital and social channels remain offline – the New Horizons mission will provide coverage of live mission activities on this website and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory YouTube channel.

DateTimeEvent
28
Friday
December, 2018
1:00-1:30 pm EST
New Horizons: Beyond Pluto. Preview of the spacecraft and science operations during the Ultima Thule flyby.
31
Monday
December, 2018
2:00-3:00 pm EST
Press briefing: Ultima Thule flyby science and operations preview
3:00-4:00 pm EST
Q&A: Ask the New Horizons Team
8:00-11:00 pm EST
Panel discussion on exploration of small worlds (8-9 pm); Ultima Thule flyby countdown events; mission updates
1
Tuesday
January, 2019
12:15-12:45 am EST
Live coverage of countdown to closest approach (12:33 am); real-time flyby simulations
9:45 – 10:15 am EST
Live coverage of New Horizons signal-acquisition from Ultima Thule flyby
11:30 am– 12:30 pm EST
Press briefing: Spacecraft status, latest images and data download schedule
2
Wednesday
January, 2019
2:00-3:00 pm EST
Press briefing: Science results from Ultima Thule
3
Thursday
January, 2019
2:00-3:00 pm EST
Press briefing: Science results from Ultima Thule