|This composite image of Ultima Thule was taken on Dec. 1. Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI|
On New Year's Day, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is expected to make history by conducting the most distant flyby ever, by zooming past an object a billion miles past Pluto. It's called "Ultima Thule," meaning "beyond the known world.
Why it matters: The spacecraft, which is the same one that sent back dazzling images of Pluto in 2015, is slated to be the first to explore an object in the Kuiper Belt -- a region of icy bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune that are thought to be leftovers from the solar system's early days.
The goal of the mission is to learn more about the building blocks of planets. "In effect, Ultima should be a valuable window into the early stages of planet formation and what the solar system was like over 4.5 billion years ago," principal investigator Alan Stern wrote in a NASA blog post.
This is reallly exciting for us science geeks. This goes back to the first entry in "Earth: A Biography", which, as you'll no doubt recall, dealt with the origins of the universe and, finally, this planet we're sitting on.
There's a lot more at the link, and it's pretty interesting.