New Horizons is racing into the deep, dark outer limits of our solar system...
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is plunging deeper and deeper into the mysterious world beyond Pluto in the outer solar system — and scientists are wondering what they’re going to find.
New Horizons made headlines last summer when it blasted past Pluto and sent back incredible pictures, and the spacecraft continues to send back critical data at a trickle. As it heads toward the Kuiper Belt, scientists have set its sites on a new object, KBO 2014 MU69, which it will reach in 2019.
Scientists don’t have much an idea of what to expect that deep into space, and each discovery marks and exciting moment for them. NASA announced on Thursday that New Horizons had recorded 1994 JR1, a 90-mile Kuiper Belt Object that is 3 billion miles from the sun.
“In this short animation, consisting of four frames taken by the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on Nov. 2, and spaced an hour apart, one can see this 90-mile (150-kilometer)-wide ancient body, officially called 1994 JR1, moving against a background of stars,” a NASA statement reads. “When these images were made, 1994 JR1 was 3.3 billion miles (5.3 billion miles) from the sun, but only 170 million miles (280 million kilometers) away from New Horizons. This sets a record, by a factor of at least 15, for the closest-ever picture of a small body in the Kuiper Belt, the solar system’s ‘third zone’ beyond the inner, rocky planets and outer, icy gas giants.”
The statement adds: “NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has now twice observed 1994 JR1, a 90-mile-wide (145-kilometer-wide) Kuiper Belt object (KBO) orbiting more than 3 billion miles (5 billion kilometers) from the sun. Science team members have used these observations to reveal new facts about this distant remnant of the early solar system.”
New Horizons is shedding light on the Kuiper Belt itself with these observations, allowing scientists to better understand how our solar system was created and continues to evolve.