The New Horizons probe is awake and ready for its next flyby | Tech News

Artist’s illustration of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft transmitting data back to Earth


Hibernation season is over for NASA’s New Horizons probe. For the last six months, the spacecraft has been conserving energy, only sending a beacon back to Earth once a week to let us know that its systems are still functioning as it hurtles through the Kuiper belt at the outer reaches of our solar system.

The spacecraft, which flew by Pluto in 2015 and sent back the first detailed pictures of the tiny world, is getting close to its next target. On New Year’s Eve 2018, it will make its closest approach to a distant rock called MU69, or Ultima Thule.

New Horizons came out of hibernation mode on 5 June, and NASA confirmed that the spacecraft is healthy. It’s now almost 6.1 billion kilometres from Earth, and will start pointing cameras at its target in the next few months.

Ultima Thule is only about 30 kilometres long, and it sits 6.4 billion kilometres away, so we don’t know much about it yet. We’re not even sure if it’s one peanut-shaped rock or two separate nearby rocks. But because it’s so far from the sun, it has been preserved in deep freeze since early in the solar system’s formation history. Researchers hope that this pristine frozen record will help us learn about the early solar system and maybe how the outer planets formed.

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