NASA’s New Horizons might have a new destination, located in the Kuiper Belt.
It travelled over three billion miles in space during nine years. And it is, unquestionably, one of NASA’s most successful and followed missions. New Horizons provided scientists and the world with the historic images of Pluto and its moons, and an abundance of scientific data on this target that is still being perused.
After Pluto-related news flooded the media, and with good reason, and NASA release of the motion video depicting New Horizons’ approach and departure from Pluto just last week, the U.S. space agency is now considering the space probe’s new destination.
While the New Horizons team is busy compiling and analysis data following the probe’s Pluto flyby, NASA is considering redirecting it to planetoid 2014 MU69 located in the Kuiper Belt. What’s another billion miles for the space probe?
A small distance that is worth planning carefully, considering the new bulk of data that is in store. This data is bound to provide more in-depth information on space bodies located in the near borders of our solar system.
2014 MU 69 is of particular interest for the U.S. space agency as Kuiper Belt objects are believed to be the building blocks of planets in the Belt. 2014 MU69 is a small object that is believed to be pristine in the sense that geological processes have not modified its composition on surface.
Moreover, it is located sufficiently far from the Sun to have kept its chemical composition unaltered since its formation. It is still unclear how large the Kuiper Belt object is, estimations placing it between 15.5 miles to 28 miles in width.
And then, there are technical aspects to be taken into consideration. New Horizons is slowly running out of fuel. So the most cost-effective choice regarding its destination proved to be 2014 MU 69. Not only that, but the object’s size, in between that of a comet and a planet like Pluto makes it an ideal research destination.
Provided everything goes according to plan, which is still in drafting phase, New Horizons should reach Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 on the first day of 2019. Then, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager will again step up to capture close images of the object and beaming them back to Earth.
The new destination is anxiously expected to be approved. Following, New Horizons will be set on its new course. Delving deeper into the Kuiper Belt and possibly beyond, NASA’s space probe is expected to be functional until 2030s.
Photo Credits: Phys.org