New Horizons is hurtling deep into our solar system -- and scientists are wondering what they'll find.
As we reported recently, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has just come upon its first Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 3 billion miles from the sun, and there are a few reasons why this is a big deal.
The spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) twice observed 1994 JR1, a 90-mile-wid object in the mysterious Kuiper Belt that could help us unravel incredible secrets about our solar systems evolution, according to a NASA statement.
The observations were made April 7-8 from a distance of 69 million miles, the closest-ever views of a KBO by a long shot — the next closest happened in November 2015 when JR1 was observed from 170 million miles away.
The observation of 1994 JR1 was a revelation for the spacecraft, as it allowed scientists to pinpoint the location of the object to within 1,000 kilometers, or 600 miles — far better than any other KBO. It also helped scientists to disprove a theory circulating that perhaps this object was a distance satellite of Pluto — its orbit says otherwise.
The statement notes that “these observations are great practice for possible close-up looks at about 20 more ancient Kuiper Belt objects that may come in the next few years, should NASA approve an extended mission. New Horizons flew through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015, making the first close-up observations of Pluto and its family of five moons. The spacecraft is on course for an ultra-close flyby of another Kuiper Belt object, 2014 MU69, on Jan. 1, 2019.”