NASA Photographs Most Distant Object in Solar System

Posted on January 22, 2019 by


NASA’s New Horizons probe photographed the solar system’s most distant object. The photos were received on New Year’s Day 2019. The object was given the name, Ultima Thule. When the Hubble Telescope first spotted Ultima, astronomers thought it was two objects orbiting each other. It turns out that Ultima Thule was one continuous “bowling pin”-shaped object spinning end over end.

In January of 2006, New Horizons was launched. Its mission was to do a flyby of the Pluto system and take photographs. The probe completed its task in 2015. Photos sent back to Earth were breathtaking and became world famous instantly.

New Horizons would then be on its way to the Kuiper Belt, where few probes have gone. No probe in Earth’s history has completed a flyby as far away as New Horizons did on Ultima Thule. Gigabytes upon gigabytes of photographs were taken and will not be received back to Earth until late 2020. Why does it take so long? New Horizons is approximately 4.12 billion miles from Earth. Therefore, sending gigabytes of media from that distance will take over one year.

Why is NASA interested in distant space objects anyway? Objects as far away as Ultima Thule receive almost no sunlight, thus they are very cold; a bone chilling -397 degrees Fahrenheit to be exact. Chemical reactions cannot occur at this temperature, so any Kuiper Belt object maintains the same chemical composition as they did 4.6 billion years ago. Studying distant objects and one day receiving a sample can help mankind unlock the secrets to the solar system.

There is much more that scientists do not know, and Ultima Thule just might have the key. As for New Horizons, it will join Voyager 1 and 2 in interstellar space during the coming years and be mankind’s third man-made object to leave the solar system.

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