NASA's New Horizons Next Target Is A Mysterious Red Object

Posted: Oct 19 2016, 4:42am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 19 2016, 4:54am CDT , in Latest Science News


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NASA's New Horizons Next Target is a Mysterious Red Object
Artist's impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft encountering a Kuiper Belt object, as part of an extended mission after the spacecraft’s July 2015 Pluto flyby. Credit:NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is speeding away from Pluto out into the Kuiper Belt and will explore a small, mysterious object called 2014 MU69

After exploring dwarf planet Pluto, NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft is speeding towards its next destination. It's a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits nearly a billion miles beyond Pluto and is believed to have even redder hue than Pluto.

The extended mission was approved back in 2015 just after New Horizon's epic flyby of Pluto on 14 July. The early target selection is important because a spacecraft needs to have enough fuel to perform an extended mission and picking a nearby object will require less fuel to get there and leaves with greater reserves for future flybys.

Meanwhile, researches are analyzing the data collected by New Horizons during its deep dive into Pluto last year and are amazed by the diversity of planet they have seen. Scientists already knew from telescope observations that Pluto harbors many spectacular features like a heart-shaped region, mountains and ice volcanoes but further data reveals that the planet also has patches of clouds inside its predominantly hazy atmosphere. If confirmed, this discovery will make the planet even more complex than we imagined.

"We're excited about the exploration ahead for New Horizons, and also about what we are still discovering from Pluto flyby data," said Alan Stern, principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “Now, with our spacecraft transmitting the last of its data from last summer's flight through the Pluto system, we know that the next great exploration of Pluto will require another mission to be sent there."

NASA’s New Horizons was launched on Jan. 19, 2006 and is helping scientists understand the icy worlds at the edge of our solar system including Pluto. Currently, the spacecraft is 3.4 billion miles from Earth and about 340 million miles beyond Pluto. It has already beamed back almost 99 percent of data collected during Pluto encounter while the rest is expected to send on October 23. The spacecraft has already covered about one-third of the distance from Pluto to its next flyby target and is expected to reach mysterious red object January next year.

“The reddish color tells us the type of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 is," said Amanda Zangari, a researcher from Southwest Research Institute. "The data confirms that on New Year's Day 2019, New Horizons will be looking at one of the ancient building blocks of the planets.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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