NASA’s New Horizons Next Target Lies Beyond Pluto

Posted: Aug 29 2015, 5:04am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

NASA’s New Horizons Next Target Lies Beyond Pluto
Artist's impression of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft encountering a Pluto-like object in the distant Kuiper Belt. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker

NASA’s next target for its probe to examine lies way beyond Pluto.

NASA has its New Horizons mission. And its objective is to go beyond Pluto. There was a flyby on July 14th near Pluto. The Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) is a billion miles away from Pluto. It will take a lot to venture that far away.

KBO and another space object are the perceived goals of NASA. The mission has been approved by the high command. As the spacecraft makes a beeline for KBO, the next target has already been selected. And it will cost less than the otherwise steep rates of the other probes.

“Even as the New Horizon’s spacecraft speeds away from Pluto out into the Kuiper Belt, and the data from the exciting encounter with this new world is being streamed back to Earth, we are looking outward to the next destination for this intrepid explorer,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and chief of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington.

“While discussions whether to approve this extended mission will take place in the larger context of the planetary science portfolio, we expect it to be much less expensive than the prime mission while still providing new and exciting science.”

Financing a KBO mission is going to be an exciting prospect for NASA. The fuel limits will have to be set too. Further exploration has its costs. The future target will be achieved some time next year. The journey to Pluto and yonder into the edges of the solar system will not be child’s play.

The intensely trendsetting and trailblazing work will light the path for others. Already the New Horizons mission has gone millions of miles beyond Pluto’s environs. A computer simulation of the journey was made by an expert. It proved to be a very realistic facsimile.

Path of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft toward its next potential target, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, nicknamed "PT1" (for "Potential Target 1") by the New Horizons team. NASA must approve any New Horizons extended mission to explore a KBO. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker

“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.

“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 Hubble Telescope discovered the Kuiper Belt Object for the first time. It lies a billion miles away from Pluto. Meanwhile, the Potential Target 1 or 2014 MU69 has just 1% the total mass of Pluto. It is a mere 30 miles in its diameter.

KBO is thought to be a leftover from the early stages of the solar system. It is an interesting piece of space debris. The mission to KBO is definitely bold in its scope. It shows that NASA is the only hope for mankind. The earth after all is something we must transcend.

“There’s so much that we can learn from close-up spacecraft observations that we’ll never learn from Earth, as the Pluto flyby demonstrated so spectacularly,” said New Horizons science team member John Spencer, also of SwRI.

“The detailed images and other data that New Horizons could obtain from a KBO flyby will revolutionize our understanding of the Kuiper Belt and KBOs.”

Pluto had been evicted from membership of the solar system by astronomers a few years back. Our changing vision of the universe is such that it will continue evolving. That is in accordance with reforms in our knowledge.

New planets and stars will turn up on our radar. The picture we have of the space-time continuum we inhabit will change for the better. NASA of course lends practical depth to this whole astronomical stargazing enterprise.

It is the latest and most Promethean step taken by mankind. And the fact is that science in all its forms is something which will remain a part of the human experience from now on.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
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