Three years ago, a journey started as the first close-up images of Pluto were captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. Now the spacecraft is set to make history again as it flies by an even more distant world. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft was launched in 2006. Its mission is to explore small objects in the Kuiper Belt -a region between 4.5 billion kilometres and 7.5 billion kilometres from the Sun.
On New Year’s Day it zoomed over a small world called Ultima Thule. Ultima Thule lies 1.6 billion kilometres beyond Pluto in the Kuiper Belt — a cosmic doughnut of small primitive objects. No spacecraft has ever explored a world this far away from the Sun, said Alan Stern, the mission’s principal investigator of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. At that rate, New Horizons zoomed past Ultima around 4.30pm (AEDT) on New Year’s Day.