NASA extends New Horizons mission. Now the Pluto probe is set to fly by one more heavenly body in the Kuiper Belt by 2019. This is 2014 MU69 and it is present at about 1 billion miles beyond Pluto in the Kuiper Belt.
NASA’s New Horizons probe came within a stone’s throw distance from Pluto just a year ago. While that mission provided astronomers and scientists with valuable data regarding what lies at the edges of our solar system, there are still more objects to explore.
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An extension of this mission has been given the go-ahead signal by NASA. The New Horizons probe will fly by 2014 MU69 soon. This heavenly body lies approximately a billion miles ahead of Pluto. It is an integral part of the Kuiper Belt.
2014 MU69 is a diminutive and frozen remnant from the period of planetary formation. This object was spotted just two years ago. When the Pluto probe took to the skies, the scientists had not yet discovered it. That was back in 2006.
Pluto is 1,474 miles in its diameter. 2014 MU69 meanwhile is just 13 to 25 miles in its diameter. Yet it happens to be one of the first foundation planets of the solar system. This novel mission is of the utmost significance for NASA.
The scientists plan on learning a whole lot more about planetary accretion via this mission. This occurs when many fragmentary objects collide and stick together to form a planet of sorts.
2014 MU69 is a fundamental part of the Cold Classical Kuiper Belt. This region is the surviving disk of material that was responsible for the formation of most of the planets of the solar system.
It has however managed to go unscathed by the violent forces that wreaked havoc with the other planets. Thus 2014 MU69 is a peephole through which we have a clear view of the conditions which were extant way back in the early stages of planetary formation.
Therefore, 2014 MU69 is the purest tiny object that is four billion years old. It is proof of this cold corridor which lies a long way from the sun.
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The exploration of the Kuiper Belt by the New Horizons probe is thus not solely for tha sake of astronomical purposes. It also involves a modicum of geology and geophysics since the region in space lends us vital clues about planetary formation in its nascent stage.