New Horizons’ next target after Pluto flyby revealed

Adam Westlake - Aug 31, 2015, 9:00am CDT
New Horizons’ next target after Pluto flyby revealed

NASA spacecraft New Horizons completed its historic flyby of dwarf planet Pluto back in July, so what’s next for the little spacecraft? It looks like it’s going to be 2014 MU69, a comet-like object that lies some 1.5 billion km beyond Pluto, NASA has said. The space agency is still reviewing the mission plan, but if approved New Horizons will reach 2014 MU69 in January of 2019. The 45 km diameter object is significant as scientists believe it might be the starting form of planets like Pluto.

2014 MU69 lies in an outer region of the Solar System known as the Kuiper Belt. It is believed that these comet-like objects are deep-freeze samples of what the Solar System was like when it was first formed over 4 billion years ago. 2014 MU69 is one of two icy objects, discovered in 2014 by the Hubble Space Telescope, that could be reached by New Horizons after its Pluto flyby.

NASA says the New Horizons spacecraft has enough fuel to last until 2020, and is capable conducting another flyby. 2014 MU69 is also the closest candidate target, so more fuel can be used during the flyby and additional studies. Those involved with the mission add that the trip to 2014 MU69 will be less expensive than the main mission of going to Pluto was, yet will still provide exciting new research.

When flying by Pluto, New Horizons came within 12,500 km to the dwarf planet’s surface. It was able to return not only new images and data of Pluto, but also of its moons Nix, Charon, Styx, Hydra, and Kerberos. Once the study of 2014 MU69 is approved, the spacecraft will begin setting its course in late October and early November.

SOURCE: BBC


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