A spacecraft of NASA advances towards the farthest and possibly the oldest cosmic body that has been photographed by humanity, a small and distant world called Ultima Thule about four billion kilometers away.
The United States space agency will ring in the New Year with live streaming online to mark the historic flyer of the mysterious object in a dark and cool area of the space known as the belt of Kuiper at 12:33 a.m. of January 1 (0533 GMT Tuesday).
A hymn of guitar recorded by the legendary guitarist of Queen Brian May, who also holds an advanced degree in astrophysics, will be published just after midnight to accompany a simulation of the flyby video, as NASA commentators describe the next step to www.nasa.gov / nasal.
Real-time video from the real flyer is impossible, as it takes six hours for a signal sent from Earth to reach the spacecraft called New Horizons and another six hours to get the answer.
But if all goes well, the first images should be available until the end of New Year.
And judging by the last tweet of Alan Stern, the main scientist in the mission of New Horizons, the excitement of the members of the team is palpable.
"ACTUALLY! Flyby is about us! @ NewHorizons2015 is healthy and is underway! The farthest exploration of the worlds of history!" wrote on Saturday.
– What aspect do you have? –
Scientists are not sure what seems Ultima Thule (pronounced TOO-Lee), either round or oblong or even if it is a single object or cluster.
It was discovered in 2014 with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, and is believed to have a size of 12-20 miles (20-30 kilometers).
Scientists decided to study it with New Horizons after the spacecraft, which began in 2006, completed its main mission to fly by Pluto in 2015, returning the most detailed images of the dwarf planet.
"In a closer approach, we will try to imagine the resolution we had for Pluto last three times," said Stern.
"If we can achieve that will be spectacular".
Going through the space at a speed of 32,000 miles (51,500 kilometers) per hour, the ship aims to make its approach closer to 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of the surface of Ultima Thule.
The steering wheel will be fast, at a speed of nine miles (14 kilometers) per second.
Onboard instruments set will record high resolution images and compile data on their size and composition.
Ultima Thule is named after a mythical island far from the north of medieval literature and cartography, according to NASA.
"Ultima Thule means" beyond Thule ", beyond the borders of the known world, which symbolizes the exploration of the remote Kuiper and Kuiper Belt objects that New Horizons is doing, something never before made," said Thule. said the US space agency in a statement.
According to the scientist of the Hal Weaver project of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, humanity did not even know that the Kuiper belt – a vast ring of relics on the days of formation of the solar system – existed until the 1990s.
"This is the frontier of planetary science," said Weaver.
"Finally, we have reached the outskirts of the solar system, these things that have been there from the beginning and that have barely changed, we think. We will find ourselves."
Despite the partial blackout of the United States government, triggered by a dispute over the funding of a border wall with Mexico between President Donald Trump and the Democratic opponents, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine , promised that the US space agency would emit the flyby.
Normally, NASA television and the NASA website would be clarified during a government closure.
NASA will also provide updates on another spacecraft, called OSIRIS-REx, which will enter orbit around the Bennu asteroid on the eve of Year's Eve, said Bridenstine.