Jan 1, 2019

NASA's New Horizons phones home after flyby of Ultima Thule

New Horizons scientists discuss the flyby of Ultima Thule. Credit: Joel Kowsky/NASA via Getty Images

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft phoned home on Tuesday morning, confirming that the spacecraft successfully completed the most distant flyby ever conducted of a space object. At 12:33 a.m., the craft passed within about 2,200 miles of a Kuiper Belt object known as Ultima Thule.

Why it matters: Ultima Thule, which is located about 4 billion miles from Earth, is thought to be a time capsule from the formation of the solar system itself about 4.6 billion years ago. Information from New Horizons is expected to provide researchers with new data about how planets form.

  • The flyby required scientists to stretch the capabilities of the New Horizons spacecraft to its limit. As it sped past Ultima Thule, which is about 80 times smaller than Pluto, New Horizons was traveling at about 32,000 miles per hour, while gathering data from its seven instruments on board.

The big picture: Researchers say they know a very limited amount about Ultima Thule, whose nickname means "beyond the known world." It's the first Kuiper Belt object ever to be closely explored by a spacecraft.

  • The Kuiper Belt, where Ultima Thule is located, is a region of icy bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune that are thought to be leftovers from the solar system's early days.
  • Based on imagery and other data from New Horizons' approach, scientists think it's an elongated, spinning object closely resembling a peanut. It's also thought to be reddish in color.
  • There are thought to be hundreds of thousands of objects like Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt, and the spacecraft will attempt to gather data on others to learn more about them, and how Ultima Thule might differ from them.

What's next: Expect to see more images and data from Ultima Thule later Tuesday and over the next 20 months. Given the spacecraft's distance from Earth, it takes about six hours for data to be transmitted one way back to Earth at 1,000 bits per second.

Go deeper: NASA is about to make space exploration history

Go deeper

Fed temporarily lifts Wells Fargo's growth restrictions

Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday it will temporarily lift Wells Fargo’s growth restrictions, which were put in place following the bank’s customer abuse scandals.

Why it matters: The Fed’s only reason for lifting the cap is so Wells Fargo can dole out more loans to struggling small businesses as part of the government’s coronavirus aid package. Earlier this week, the bank said it could only lend a total of $10 billion, thanks to Fed restrictions that it can’t grow its assets beyond $1.95 trillion.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12 p.m. ET: 1,450,343 — Total deaths: 83,568 — Total recoveries: 308,617Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 12 p.m. ET: 399,979 — Total deaths: 12,912 — Total recoveries: 22,539Map.
  3. Business updates: Roughly one-third of U.S. apartment renters didn't make April payments.
  4. Federal government latest: The U.S. has begun to see "glimmers of hope" despite its highest recorded number of deaths in 24 hours, Anthony Fauci said.
  5. Public health latest: Surgeon General Jerome Adams highlighted the disproportionate impact the illness is having on African-American communities.
  6. World latest: Indians look to Taiwan amid China's coronavirus missteps
  7. 🚌 Public transit: Systems across the country are experiencing ridership collapse, squeezed funding streams and slow recovery from the pandemic.
  8. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Bernie Sanders suspends presidential campaign

Photo: ANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders announced Wednesday that he is suspending his presidential campaign.

The big picture: It's an end to the campaign of the leading progressive in the race — and the candidate who seemed to be the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination just a few months ago. It also makes Biden the presumptive Democratic nominee four months before the party's convention in Milwaukee.