New Horizons Sails Through 'Final Exam' Before Ultima Thule Encounter | 10/2/2018 | Google+
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NASA's New Horizons mission continues to check off milestones ahead of its history-making New Year's Day flyby of the distant object known as Ultima Thule.

Last month, the mission team conducted a three-day practice session for the flyby, downloading and analyzing simulated data and rehearsing how to present this information to the public and the press.

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"This was our science team's final exam, and they passed it with flying colors — meaning we're ready for the Ultima flyby coming almost exactly 100 days from now!" New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement. [Destination Pluto: NASA's New Horizons Mission in Pictures]

This science-communication exam, held from Sept. 6 through Sept. 8 at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL) in Maryland, was one of the last of about two dozen "operational readiness tests" that the team has been performing in advance of the Jan. 1 flyby, mission officials said.

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The simulated flyby data that the team devised depicted Ultima Thule as two objects surrounded by a thin ring of debris. The real observations could show something similar; the limited information astronomers have gathered to date suggests that Ultimate Thule, which is officially known as 2014, may consist of two bodies orbiting a common center of mass.

Astronomers think that Ultima Thule is about 23 miles (37 kilometers) wide....
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