New Horizon Hoping to Build on Pluto Discoveries With New Summer Mission – Latin Post

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Leaders of the New Horizon flyby mission are looking to venture where no man has gone before.

With its 2015 successful mission to Pluto now in its rear view mirror, scientists are now hoping to spend this summer exploring the icy rock known as 2014 MU69.

To date, not much is known about the surface, other than that it orbits the sun, approximately a billion miles away from Pluto, and researchers are convinced it could be a time capsule born in the earliest days of the solar system.

MU69 Just one of Several KBOs

MU69 is further described as one of several types of objects (or KBOs) in the Kuiper Belt, otherwise known as the ring of rock and ice debris that encircles our solar system.

“The Kuiper Belt in general, and the cold classical objects especially, are the most primordial objects,” explains Simon Porter, post-doctoral researcher on the New Horizons mission. “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.”

Such research has never been conducted, meaning that if researchers are able to get funding for the project it could yield huge benefits in terms of filling in gaps about how our solar system actually formed nearly five billion years ago.

“We can’t conclusively say if it has moons or not based on the Hubble images,” said Porter. “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.”

In anticipation of their upcoming mission, New Horizon team members recently took the liberty of sending a spacecraft in the direction of MU69, even though they are still officially awaiting word from NASA approving the mission.

Researchers Awaiting NASA’s Approval

 “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,” said Porter. “If they don’t then we would literally turn off the spacecraft this year.”

To date, New Horizons has been one of NASA’s least expensive mission, coming in at a cost of only $700 million, which works out to a mere $0.15 per person per year. If the mission gets official approval, researchers plan to turn on the spacecraft’s instruments as it flies through the Kuiper Belt, studying other bodies along the way.

The team hopes to get word back from NASA sometime this summer.

New Horizon Hoping to Build on Pluto Discoveries With New Summer Mission – Latin Post