NASA will explore a hostile space rock for New Year's
Tonight we're journeying to the most distant object ever explored in the solar system.
No, it's not your cold and emotionally stand offish step mother.
We're going to the Kuiper belt.
Bob, just like dinner at your stepmother's house, it's volatile, frosty and it takes way too long to get there.
I'm Claire Reilly, welcome to Watch This Space.
From the CNET studios in Sydney, this is your weekly guide to everything on Earth you need to know about space.
And tonight fasten your carpet belts, we're going on a ride.
That's right, on January 1 to celebrate New Year's Day.
And NASA is taking us on a journey to the farthest reaches of the solar system.
You just wanted to stay on the couch and deal with that post New Year's Eve headache?
My sweet summer child, NASA has other plans.
When it came to filling out goals in its dream journal this year, NASA wasn't interested in starting that new yoga class.
It's big years resolution was to travel billions of miles through space to explore a trans-Neptunian object in the carpet belt with the New Horizons Mission.
That's right, New Horizons.
No it's not a multi-level marketing scheme or a new age cult, though let's not lie, those two are often the same thing.
It's NASA's combined effort with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory to explore further out in the solar system than we've ever explored.
It's worth noting, this isn't the furthest we've ever traveled.
The Voyager probes which launched in 1977 passed through the Kuiper Belt in the 90's.
The only problem was, we didn't actually know about the Kuiper Belt until 1992.
By that time, NASA says Voyager 2 was deep within the region and Voyager 1 had almost left it.
This time with new horizons, we've taken a really good look.
But before we do that, we need to make like a 90's fashion magazine and get back to basics, belt basics.
The Kuiper belt is a ring of icy space objects out past Neptune's orbit, starting about 30 astronomical units away from the sun.
To give you an idea, that's 30 times the distance between the Sun and Earth.
It's where Ice Dwarf and noted planet imposter Pluto hangs out, when it's not climbing onto Neptune's shoulders under a trench coat and trying to get into the Planet Club.
Speaking of Pluto, New Horizons was the space probe that did the first ever flyby past Pluto back in 2015.
It brought us phenomenal images of the former ninth planet, showing scientists the planet's surface in intricate detail, and giving deviant art users and excuse to make more terrible space-themed wallpapers.
But the space probe isn't done yet, in the words of Aqua, we're just getting started.
Shortly after its Pluto flyby, NASA charts the next target for New Horizons to check out.
A relatively small space rock known as 2014 MU69.
Because 2014 MU69 sounds like a terrible combination of a vanity license plate and the worst Tinder message you've ever received, NASA decided to open a public vote to choose a nickname.
And somehow avoiding the pitfalls of public voting contests.
I'm looking at you, Boaty McBoatface.
They chose the name [UNKNOWN] in March 2018.
[LAUGH] She was great in Kill Bill.
[UNKNOWN] is named after the Island of Thule, the mythological land on the edge of the Earth in classical myth and cartography.
Don't let anyone tell you that Watch This Space doesn't give you sweet cartography knowledge.
But even though it has a name, we still don't know about Ultima Thule.
It's a Kuiper Belt object, or KBO, that was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in June 2014.
It's about a hundred times smaller than Pluto.
And it lives about a billion miles beyond Pluto, or roughly&nbsp;46 astronomical units from the sun, at its furthest point.
And, based on observations made by NASA's New Horizons team, MU69 could actually be two objects.
But NASA wants to know more.
Based on its calculations, NASA reckons Ultima was formed 4.5 or 4.6 billion years ago, 4 billion miles from the Sun.
And it's been sitting there in temperatures close to absolute zero ever since.
Best the equivalent of this seven pounds of [UNKNOWN] but you would in [UNKNOWN] cosco to throwing the freeze in the next Christmas now the raccoons are all [UNKNOWN] or the space hand could be the best possible sample of the ancient soul the nebula, that's the nebula that birth the solar system.
That we've ever studied.
New Horizons will fly three times closer to Ultima than it flew to Pluto in 2015.
Scientist hope it will tell us about the composition of Ultima whether it has an atmosphere, and if and whether it has its own moons.
To do all that, New Horizons is packed with a bunch of instruments.
There's Ralph which measures visible and infrared light, Alice for ultraviolet imaging, and Rex or the radio science experiment Which will measure atmospheric composition.
There's also a telescopic camera and instruments to measure space dust and solar winds.
And of course, my favorite the Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation, or PEPSSI.
Which measured plasma escaping from Pluto.
New Horizons, taste the science.
[SOUND] So there you have it, on January 1, while you're washing the confetti off your face and cleaning the cocktail umbrellas out of your hair.
NASA's New Horizons will be playing designated Dave and driving humankind further into the realms of scientific discovery.
No need for champagne this New Year's, NASA is happy with Pepsi.
All right, that's it for this week's edition of Watch This Space.
If you've enjoyed our broadcast, then please make sure to click the like button on your remote, and subscribe for Further space news as it happens.
I'm Claire Riley for CNET.
Good night and God speed.
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