On January 1, the New Horizons spacecraft, the first NASA probe to buzz Pluto, will reach its next target: a Kuiper belt object called Ultima Thule. At 12:33 am EST, New Horizons will pass within 3,500 km of this rock, which lies 1.6 billion kilometres beyond Pluto and 6.7 billion kilometres from us.
Pretty cool, given that Ultima Thule is about 37 kilometres in diameter. Nice aim.
Not only is Queen guitarist Brian May most interested in the mission, he has a Ph.D in astrophysics. To commemorate this historic flyby, he’s written a special song for New Horizons called, er, “New Horizons.”
Brian says (via CMU)
“This project has energised me in a new way”, says May. “For me it’s been an exciting challenge to bring two sides of my life together – astronomy and music”.
He continues: “It was Alan Stern, the Project Instigator of this amazing NASA mission, who threw down the glove last May. He asked if I could come up with a theme for Ultima Thule which could be played as the NH probe reached this new destination. I was inspired by the idea that this is the furthest that the hand of man has ever reached – it will be by far the most distant object we have ever seen at close quarters, through the images which the spacecraft will beam back to Earth”.
“To me it epitomises the human spirit’s unceasing desire to understand the universe we inhabit”, he goes on. “Everyone who has devoted so much energy to this mission since its launch in January 2006 will be feeling they are actually inside that small but intrepid vehicle – only about the size of a grand piano – as it pulls off another spectacular close encounter. And through the vehicle’s ‘eyes’ we will begin to learn, for the very first time, what a Kuiper Belt Object is made of. And pick up precious clues about how our solar system was born”.
Brian’s co-writer on the song is lyricist Don Black. Stephen Hawking makes a spoken word appearance, too.
“New Horizons” will be released January 1. Here’s a snippet.