LAUREL, Md. — The sleeping bags are rolled out and the videos are cued up for a New Year’s celebration of cosmic proportions here at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, but the star of the show is still a mystery.
That’ll change once NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flies past an icy object more than 4 billion miles from Earth, known as 2014 MU69 or Ultima Thule.
The piano-sized probe is due to make its closest approach at 12:33 a.m. ET on New Year’s Day (9:33 p.m. PT Dec. 31), nearly 13 years after New Horizons’ launch and three and a half years after it flew past Pluto.
Mission managers say it’s all systems go for history’s farthest-out close encounter with a celestial body.