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The spacecraft team that brought us close-ups of Pluto will ring in the new year by exploring an even more distant and mysterious world.One billion miles beyond Pluto and an astounding 4 billion miles from Earth (1.6 billion kilometers and 6.4 billion kilometers), Ultima Thule will be the farthest world ever explored by humankind.It flew past Pluto in 2015, providing the first close-up views of the dwarf planet.As distant as it is, Pluto is barely in the Kuiper Belt, the so-called Twilight Zone stretching beyond Neptune. Ultima Thule is in the Twilight Zone's heart.The spacecraft will zoom within 3,500 kilometers of Ultima Thule, its seven science instruments going full blast.Scientists speculate Ultima Thule could be two objects closely orbiting one another.New Horizons will get considerably closer to Ultima Thule than it did to Pluto: 3,500 kilometers vs. 12,500 kilometers. At the same time, Ultima Thule is 100 times smaller than Pluto and therefore harder to track, making everything more challenging.
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