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December 14, 2018

The PI's Perspective: Exploring Ultima–How to Get Involved!

Spend your New Year's Eve with NASA, as New Horizons flies by Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt —the farthest exploration of any worlds ever attempted!

The New Horizons spacecraft is healthy and is now on its final approach to explore Ultima Thule — our ancient Kuiper Belt object (KBO) flyby target. On New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, New Horizons will swoop three times closer to "Ultima" than we flew past Pluto!

We're getting near Ultima now: only about 14 million miles (22 million kilometers) to go after a journey from Pluto of a billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers). Aboard the spacecraft, our plasma spectrometers and dust-impact counter are already measuring Ultima's orbital environment 24/7. Also, we're taking hundreds of images using our telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), and sending all that data back to Earth to be analyzed by our Hazards and Navigation teams. We have one more trajectory-correction opportunity to home in on Ultima as accurately as possible, and, if necessary, to dodge debris. If we need that engine burn, we'll conduct it Dec. 18. You can follow the decision on that and also other news at the various web links at the bottom of this page.

The flyby of Ultima will be historic in several ways. First, it'll shatter all previous exploration of worlds in space by happening so much farther out. Second, it'll be the first-ever exploration of a small KBO. Third, owing to Ultima's small size and temperature near absolute zero, New Horizons will be examining the most well preserved sample of solar system formation conditions ever studied by spacecraft. What will it be like? No one knows. But our team is humbled by the opportunity to carry out this flyby, for all humankind, and to represent NASA and the United States—the world's leaders in the very human pursuit of exploration.

We're also proud to provide you with a variety of ways to get involved in this exciting exploration, which will culminate on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day with the close flyby of Ultima! Here are a few of the ways you can get involved:

Check out our revamped website: https://pluto.jhuapl.edu/

Follow the close flyby on social media channels and NASA TV: All of these will broadcast/webcast the close flyby on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, as well as media press conferences with early scientific results on Jan. 1, 2 and 3. Watch the mission and NASA TV websites Find NASA TV at https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/#public.

Participate in the Ultima Thule art campaign: Multiple objects? Moons and rings?  An atmosphere? Exotic landforms? Just what will New Horizons see when it zooms by Ultima Thule on January 1? Tell us— or better, show us! Enter our student art campaign at https://bit.ly/2G5J7Cf .

Beam your name and good wishes – literally at the speed of light – to the Kuiper Belt and Ultima Thule on flyby day. And, get a certificate to prove it — just like I did! (By the way, these certificates make great birthday and holiday gifts if you send messages on behalf of friends, coworkers or relatives!) Visit https://pluto.jhuapl.edu/Send-Greetings/ to take part!

And don't forget to bookmark https://seeultimathulenow.com/ to follow the countdown to Ultima closest approach and to see our Ultima Picture of the Day (UPOD) postings.

I hope you not only participate in these cool engagement options, but also share them broadly with your friends, family and colleagues. We want as many people as possible to take part in the exploration of Ultima with us!

And that's my report for now. I'll be writing again before the close flyby, so stay tuned. Until then, always keep exploring — just as we do!

–Alan Stern

There are many ways to follow New Horizons news and commentary on social media! You can find others by searching on the Web.