On January 1, 2019, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will make its most exciting flyby of its 12-year career — a close encounter with Ultima Thule, a small icy body lurking at the edge of the solar system.
Named after a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature, this frozen world was originally called 2014 MU69 and is one of the most mysterious residents of the Kuiper Belt. Floating some 3.8 billion miles away from Earth, Ultima Thule (pronounced TOO-lee) is the most distant celestial object to ever be visited by a man-made spacecraft.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, not much is known about the enigmatic destination of the New Horizons spacecraft. Discovered in 2014 by the Hubble Space Telescope, Ultima Thule was initially believed to be somewhat spherical in shape. It was only three years later that scientists figured out that this peculiar object was actually elongated and stood a good chance of being a binary asteroid — made up of two space rocks orbiting each other.
In late August, New Horizons unveiled to the world the first-ever snapshot of Ultima Thule, captured from a distance of 107 million miles away, as reported by the Inquisitr at the time. Come January 1, the intrepid spacecraft — which in 2015 led humanity on our first exploration of Pluto — will zip past this intriguing object at 32,000 miles per hour, coming in as close as 2,200 miles from Ultima Thule.
That's more than three times closer than New Horizons' historic flyby of Pluto on July 14, 2015, notes Phys.org.
With about four days to go until New Horizons' epic encounter with Ultima Thule, NASA has already released the schedule of live-streamed events that will keep you up to speed with this glorious space mission.