NASA’s New Horizons Team Hopes To Extend Mission To Explore MU69 In Kuiper Belt – Headlines & Global News

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NASA’s New Horizons Team Hopes To Extend Mission To Explore MU69 In Kuiper Belt

By Tyler MacDonald | May 22, 2016 12:02 PM EDT



Kuiper Belt Object




Riding high on the success of their Pluto exploration, NASA’s New Horizons team is planning on extending the mission in order to explore MU69, an icy rock in the Kuiper Belt, a disc-shaped region of icy debris that encircles our solar system.

MU69 is considered to be a cold classical object, which means that it has existed undisturbed since the formation of the solar system. In fact, most of the objects in the Kuiper Belt are primordial objects.

“They were never pushed around by the giant planets; they’re pretty much where they formed and haven’t been disturbed except for occasionally bumping into each other,” said Simon Porter, a member of the New Horizons team.


Due to the small size and distance of MU69, its exact brightness and measurements are still unknown, although the team estimates that it is approximately 20 to 30 miles across. In addition, the team hopes to find a moon at the icy body.

“We can’t conclusively say if it has moons or not based on the Hubble images,” Porter noted. “For the big cold classicals, something like 30 percent have known moons. There’s a pretty good chance that this thing’s got at least one satellite. It could be a small one. It could be a big one, could be several. We really don’t know.”

Given the limited amount of information on average cold classicals such as MU69, Porter and the New Horizons team still don’t know what to expect when it comes to surface composition and geology.

“We’ve never been to one of these objects before, so we really have no idea what it’s like,” Porter said. “We’ve been to comets, but comets are degraded versions of these things. We’ve been to moons that are about that size, around Pluto, around Saturn, but they’re moons so they’re formed in a completely different way. They’re probably made of completely different stuff. It’s the last unknown type of object in the solar system that we’re going to visit.”

The mission extension still needs to receive an approval from NASA, something that the team hopes will be granted sometime this summer.

“The spacecraft is on its way to MU69, but in order to actually have the flyby, NASA has to approve keeping the spacecraft on for that long,” Porter said. “If they don’t then we would literally turn off the spacecraft this year.” 

NASA’s New Horizons Team Hopes To Extend Mission To Explore MU69 In Kuiper Belt – Headlines & Global News