FILE - This image made available by NASA in March 2017 shows Pluto illuminated from behind by the sun as the New Horizons spacecraft travels away from it at a distance of about 120,000 miles (200,000 kilometers). The probe will ring in 2019 by exploring an even more distant and mysterious world. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute via AP)

Pluto explorer ushering in new year at more distant world

December 27, 2018 - 9:03 am

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The spacecraft team that brought us close-ups of Pluto will ring in the new year by exploring an even more distant and mysterious world.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will zip past the scrawny, icy object nicknamed Ultima Thule (TOO-lee) soon after the stroke of midnight.

Ultima Thule will be the farthest world ever explored by humankind. It is 1 billion miles beyond Pluto and an astounding 4 billion miles from Earth. No spacecraft has visited anything so primitive.

The spacecraft flew past Pluto in 2015, providing the first close-up views of the dwarf planet. It will zoom within 2,200 miles of Ultima Thule, its seven science instruments going full blast.

It will take about 10 hours to get confirmation that the spacecraft completed — and survived — the encounter.

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