Members of the NASA New Horizons team delivered remarks just after the start of the final approach to Ultima Thule, the most distant space body we’ve ever observed with a flyby. This even occurred began around 3PM Eastern Time, and all seems to have gone according to plan thus far. Now we’ll just have to wait a bit before we see any media – it takes a while for any photos, etc, to be beamed back through space- that craft is quite a ways away!
It’s expected that substantial New Horizons craft photos of Ultima Thule will begin to arrive in around 16 hours. That’s 16 hours or less, from now, that we’ll see photos of the closest flyby of Ultima Thule. You can see every photo released before now over at the Ultima Thule LORRI images gallery in RAW format. NOTE: They’re very, very tiny.
Resolution of Ultima Thule will increase each day – throughout the next couple of weeks. While the first close photos will start to appear within a day, they’ve begun snapping more photos the closer they’ve gotten. Once within a certain distance, New Horizons snaps as many photos as possible within the short period in which it’s passing the space body – and heads beyond.
NOTE: To be extra clear, the moment at which the closest approach will occur is January 1st, 2019, 05:33:00 UTC. Images began to transmit for final approach many hours in advance.
At its current distance, light takes a little over 6 hours to travel from New Horizons to us here on Earth. With that distance, NASA is able to get around 1,000 bits per second, and at the resolution they’re working with on LORRI, it takes around 16 hours per photo. Luckily they don’t have to wait for one photo to be sent in its entirety before the next can start sending – we’ll get more than a couple per day, for sure.
MORE INFO: Tracking beyond Pluto!
“Given Ultima Thule’s relatively small size (it’s approximately 20 miles across), LORRI didn’t actually start to resolve Ultima (that is, see it as more than a point of light) until Dec. 29, when the New Horizons spacecraft closed to within 2 million miles (3 million kilometers),” said the New Horizons Team. “The New Horizons team will start posting LORRI images on Dec. 30, when Ultima should be approximately 1.5 pixels across in the full-resolution (“1×1″ mode) pictures.”
Below you’ll find a gallery that’ll be filling up with images as they appear at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Usher in the new year with the first images of this space rock ever seen by human eyes!