Fresh off of observing 1994 JR1, New Horizons is on its way to a more mysterious object deep in the Kuiper Belt.
As we reported recently, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has just come upon its first Kuiper Belt Object 3 billion miles from the sun, but more mysteries await the spacecraft’s deep-space journey.
New Horizons used its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) to observe 1994 JR1, which is 90 miles wide and lies in the mysterious Kuiper Belt, potentially holding the secrets of the evolution of the solar system. But there’s one object that New Horizons is specifically trying to learn more about.
That object is named 2014 MU69, a mysterious body in the Kuiper Belt that was one of two destinations recommended by the New Horizons team to explore.
2014 MU69 is an ancient Kuiper Belt Object formed where it currently orbits, and as a result it makes a great candidate for a flyby.
Kuiper Belt Objects, or KBOs, are heated only a little bit by the sun and therefore may be well-preserved samples of the outer solar system when it was born 4.6 billion years ago. Scientists are hoping they can learn a lot from studying these objects, as they essentially act as time capsules that have remained constant through the history of 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,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, 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.”
The statement adds: “New Horizons was originally designed to fly beyond the Pluto system and explore additional Kuiper Belt objects. The spacecraft carries extra hydrazine fuel for a KBO flyby; its communications system is designed to work from far beyond Pluto; its power system is designed to operate for many more years; and its scientific instruments were designed to operate in light levels much lower than it will experience during the 2014 MU69 flyby.”
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