The spacecraft is still sending back data from its Pluto flyby last year.
NASA New Horizons spacecraft has blasted through our solar system and is now headed for deep space — and one mysterious object in particular.
After gathering huge amounts of information on Pluto after a flyby last year, NASA is now training the New Horizons spacecraft on 2014 MU69, an object in the Kuiper Belt that scientists think has been basically unchanged since the solar system was born 4.6 billion years ago, according to news reports and a NASA statement.
Scientists will be using the same cameras and instruments that created the incredible Pluto images we first saw last year, and it will hopefully shed light on this strange object — potentially unlocking some secrets to the origin of the solar system or even the universe in the process.
It’ll be a bit of a wait — the New Horizons spacecraft won’t make it there until New Yar’s Day 2019.
It represents a rare opportunity for scientists to see a distant object. Even the largest and most powerful telescopes are unable to catch a glimpse of objects like this.
It takes about 300 years for 2014 MU69 to orbit the sun. The object is thought to be untouched because it is deep in the Kuiper Belt, far from any gravitational impacts from other bodies in the solar system.
“2014 MU69 is a great choice because it is just the kind of ancient KBO, formed where it orbits now, that the Decadal Survey desired us to fly by,” New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, said in the statement. “Moreover, this KBO costs less fuel to reach [than other candidate targets], leaving more fuel for the flyby, for ancillary science, and greater fuel reserves to protect against the unforeseen.”