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Pluto explorer spots next destination billion miles beyond

August 29, 2018

This composite image made available by NASA shows the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule indicated by the crosshairs at center, with stars surrounding it on Aug. 16, 2018, made by the New Horizons spacecraft. The brightness of the stars was subtracted from the final image using a separate photo from September 2017, before the object itself could be detected. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A NASA spacecraft that explored Pluto has spotted its next target on the outskirts of our solar system.

NASA this week revealed pictures taken by New Horizons earlier this month of a tiny icy world known as Ultima Thule (THOO-lee). New Horizons is aiming for a flyby on New Year’s Day. It will be humanity’s most distant exploration of a celestial body, 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) from Earth and 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto.

New Horizons in 2015 became the first spacecraft to visit Pluto. Ultima Thule is minuscule by comparison, an estimated 20 miles (30 kilometers) across. Scientists were surprised New Horizons could detect it from 100 million miles (155 million kilometers) out.

The pictures are the farthest ever taken, with more to come.

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