NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made a historic New Year’s encounter with an object nicknamed Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt a billion miles beyond Pluto. The probe passed around 3,500 kilometres from the mysterious object at 0533 GMT on New Year’s Day, making it the most distant Solar System body ever explored up close.
Early risers in the UK with an unobstructed horizon from southeast through south can see the old crescent Moon close to dazzling Venus in Libra then Jupiter in Ophiuchus over three consecutive mornings starting New Year’s Day around 7am GMT. The brightest and largest planets lie little more than the span of an outstretched hand at arm’s length apart at this time.
Fifty years ago this week, the crew of Apollo 8 witnessed Earthrise over the limb of the moon, capturing the historic moment in an iconic photo that came to symbolize the Cold War space race, the budding environmental movement and the dream of a slain president. Many at NASA consider Apollo 8 the agency’s boldest mission.