Watching New Horizons’ flyby of Ultima Thule

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NASA has announced that the partial government shutdown will no longer prevent full coverage by the agency of the New Horizons’ fly-by of Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule just past midnight on January 1, 2019.

This entire shutdown is pure theater, and a joke. If the government was truly out of money, it would be impossible for NASA to suddenly obtain funds to finance a New Horizons’ fly-by broadcast. The problem is that legally the government should be out of money, as Congress has the power of the purse and has not approved funding. Unfortunately, we no longer obey the law, and so our government can now do whatever it wants, free from all legal constraints.

Meanwhile the article at the link provides some good information on watching the fly-by:

Though people can now continue to enjoy the coverage through NASA’s New Horizons twitter account and NASA TV, APL will continue providing coverage in their own YouTube channel, as well as with Stern’s personal twitter account and New Horizon’s account.

The twitter feeds will mostly be junk. I would focus on the streaming links.



  • Michael

    Probably a seriously dumb question but I do not know. Is the actual fly by just past mid-night on Jan 1 and the first results will be available about six hours later or the flyby is really six hours earlier and the first results will be available at midnight.

    Of course now that I have asked the question the answer will appear on the next web site I look at!

  • Michael: As I presently understand it, the actual fly-by will be shortly after midnight on January 1. Data will not start arriving until the morning hours. See:

  • Col Beausabre

    For what it’s worth here is an article I spotted about the fly-by. H-hour is 1230 AM EST on Jan 1 2019

    Watching the fly-by with a bottle of bubbly is gonna be a lot better than standing crushed with a million others under the cold drenching rain forecast for Times Square

  • Kirk

    Is the imaging fully choreographed in advance — as in preprogrammed to point a camera in a precise direction at a particular time — or does New Horizons have the ability to optically track Ultima Thule as it passes by and control the direction of its imaging appropriately.

    Are the size and orbital parameters of Ultima Thule sufficiently well know that, given the closeness of New Horizons approach (within 3,500 km, passing by at 51,500 km/h), an exactly preprogrammed & choreographed imaging sequence is even possible?

  • Diane Wilson

    Kirk, I believe that the final choreography was uploaded around December 25. As it was with Pluto, it is entirely preprogrammed. And yes, given the flyby velocity, distance, and difficulty of getting any kind of precise positioning of Ultima Thule, it will definitely be a dance to remember.

  • Kirk

    Thanks Diane!

    I didn’t watch the live flyby coverage, but I’m eagerly anticipating the “I’m alive and survived flyby” message which should start arriving in half an hour, at 10:28 EST. (Per Emily Lakdawalla’s 17 December What to Expect article, “The first science data begins arriving later the same day [1 Jan.], at 20:15 UTC (15:15 EST). The four-hour downlink should include a photo that is about 100 pixels across.”)

    Reading through coverage, I see Jeff Foust reporting that two days ago they uplinked a “2-second timing correction for the upcoming flyby, based on optical navigation images received.” During the flyby, New Horizon was described as “sweeping its instruments across the field of possible locations of 2014 MU69 to ensure it gets the KBO in its instruments’ fields of view.”

    I hope all worked well, and I look forward to learning how close the actual timing of the pass was to what was predicted.

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