Great Expectations: Plans and Predictions for New Horizons Encounter With Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 ("Ultima Thule")
The New Horizons encounter with the cold classical Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 (informally named "Ultima Thule," hereafter Ultima) on 1 January 2019 will be the first time a spacecraft has ever closely observed one of the free-orbiting small denizens of the Kuiper Belt. Related to but not thought to have formed in the same region of the solar system as the comets that been explored so far, it will also be the most distant, and most primitive body yet visited by spacecraft. In this letter we begin with a brief overview of cold classical Kuiper Belt objects, of which Ultima is a prime example. We give a short preview of our encounter plans. We note what is currently known about Ultima from Earth-based observations. We then review our expectations and capabilities to evaluate Ultima's composition, surface geology, structure, near space environment, small moons, rings, and the search for activity.