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According to Popular Science (This article and its images were originally posted on Popular Science December 31, 2018 at 09:06PM.)
Scientists around the world are spending New Year’s Eve waiting to hear news of a historic space event. NASA’s New Horizons, famous for visiting Pluto for the first time ever back in 2015, is making a second splash with a flyby of 2014 MU69, an object a billion miles beyond Pluto and 4.1 billion from Earth itself. If New Horizons is successful, this encounter will represent the most distant object ever explored by a visiting spacecraft.
Unofficially known as Ultima Thule, the rock—which may actually be two rocks moving together in tandem—sits in a distant region of cosmic cold-storage called the Kuiper Belt. Because of the temperature and lack of direct sunlight, the objects therein are much unchanged from their makeup in the earliest days of the solar system. Researchers hope that studying these distant bodies can help us better understand what building blocks were present when our Sun was brand new, and how and why these pieces came together to form planets. A better grasp of this process will help us understand our origins, but it could also give us insight into how the planetary formation process might differ under slightly (or extremely) different circumstances—thereby helping us determine where, when, and how habitable planets are most likely to form.
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