NASA’s first interstellar probe made its closest approach to another star in a series of close flybys, scientists announced today.
The Mita (M) spacecraft, launched Dec. 18, made its first pass around another star last week, according to a statement from NASA.
The closest approach was about 1,100 light-years (about six light-hours) away, making it the first time that NASA’s probe has passed another star and gotten close enough to confirm its own orbit.
The probe made the closest approach by about 15 percent, NASA officials said in the statement.
It was in orbit around Alpha Centauri B, a star in the constellation of Virgo that is more than three times as massive as Earth.
Mita is a probe designed to study the outer reaches of the universe.
It was the first-ever interstellar flyby of another star.
It is also the first interstellar spacecraft to make a close pass of another stars atmosphere, NASA said.
Mita’s closest approach came in a pair of observations on Dec. 19.
It observed two stars that are nearly the same distance as Earth in the Alpha Centauri system.
The two stars are about 4,400 light-days (3,400 million kilometers) apart.
The first observation was made at about 10 p.m.
EST (2200 GMT) on Dec 21.
The second was made on Dec 23 at 2:36 a.m., and the two were recorded at about 9:25 p. m.
EST.NASA has long hoped to detect evidence of alien life, but the Mita flyby has provided an unprecedented opportunity to test whether a spacecraft’s atmosphere has a large enough effect on the environment of the planet it orbits.
Mite also revealed some of the first information about the chemical composition of the interstellar medium.