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NASA's New Horizons Awakes After Hibernation

New Horizons trajectory. Photo: NASA / Alan Stern / Twitter
New Horizons trajectory. Photo: NASA / Alan Stern / Twitter

A spacecraft exploring the outer reaches of our solar system is awake after a six month slumber.

NASA’s New Horizons’ primary mission was to visit Pluto and back in 2015 the spacecraft did just that, beaming back high-definition images from the dwarf planet.

Earlier this year, mission managers put the spacecraft to sleep to save resources. Since then, the spacecraft would check in with mission control every Monday, giving the green light if all was "okay." Now that it's awake, controllers are communicating with the craft via NASA's Deep Space Network and sending new instructions to the probe.

Now that it's awake, the spacecraft is awake and on its way to Ultima Thule, the unofficial name for the object 2014 MU69. It's an object about a billion miles away from Pluto. Part of the Kuiper belt, Ultima Thule is leftover from the early days of our solar system. Scientists want to study the object to understand how the solar system formed.

Ultima Thule has only been observed by the Hubble Space Telescope. When New Horizons arrives on New Years Day it will be the farthest planetary encounter by a spacecraft.

New Horizons launched from Cape Canaveral back in 2006.

"Ultima Thule" was selected after NASA invited the public to vote on a nickname for 2014 MU69. More than 100,000 people participated in the selection. After New Horizons' flyby, the team plans to take the data and the nickname to the International Astronomical Union for formal selection.

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration. Brendan is a native Floridian, born and raised in Broward County. He moved to Central Florida in 2005 to attend the University of Central Florida. He began working at WMFE as a college intern where he discovered his love for public radio.