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New Horizons probe zeroes in on Ultima Thule

Ultima Thule and New Horizons
An artist’s conception shows Ultima Thule with the New Horizons probe silhouetted by the sun. (NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI Illustration)

Act Two of the 12-year-old New Horizons mission to Pluto and the solar system’s icy Kuiper Belt is heating up, with less than a month to go before NASA’s piano-sized spacecraft makes history’s farthest-out close encounter with a celestial object.

The New Year’s flyby of a mysterious Kuiper Belt object (or objects) known as Ultima Thule (UL-ti-ma THOO-lee) follows up on the mission’s first act, which hit a climax three years ago with a history-making flyby of Pluto.

Launched in 2006, New Horizons was never meant to be a one-shot deal. Even before the Pluto flyby, mission managers used the Hubble Space Telescope to identify its next quarry, a billion miles farther out in the Kuiper Belt. Now it’s crunch time for New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern and his team.

Again.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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