New Horizons could explore MU69 as next target – PerfScience

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After registering success in exploring Pluto, New Horizons team is expecting to win an extended mission to explore MU69. This icy rock is one of many types of objects in the Kuiper Belt, the ring of rock and ice debris that encircles our solar system.

MU69 is categorized as a cold classical object, meaning that it has remained undisturbed since the beginning of the solar system. Simon Porter from the New Horizons mission said that the Kuiper Belt are most 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.”, mentioned Porter. From the term, cold classical, it does not mean to indicate about the temperature of the objects, but about their orbits that do not bring them close to anything else.

Ever before, humankind has not visited a cold classical object. Therefore, the flyby if gets funded could fill in big gaps about how solar system was formed some 4.6 million years back. MU69 is very small and far away that ground observations are not able to explain the brightness and size. As per the guess, MU69 is around 20 to 30 miles across.

The team expects to find a moon at MU69 as well. Porter said that they cannot say conclusively that it has moons or not. They have estimated it because the big cold classicals, around 30% of them have known moons.

Porter and the team are also looking forward to count the craters, if any on MU69. The spacecraft is on its way to MU69, but in order to actually have the flyby; NASA has to approve the mission. If they do not do so then they would have turn off the spacecraft.

“As a young child growing up in Colombia and later in the U.S., I learned about the nine classical planets in our solar system. Four terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Four gas giants: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. And then there was Pluto, at the edge of our solar system. All of the planets had been visited by spacecraft except Pluto; it was unknown and unexplored. I never imagined that I would be part of the first mission to see this mysterious, incredible world up-close,” according to a news report published by Space Daily.

As New Horizons sped closer, Pluto, which initially appeared as a small dot in LORRI images, grew to a system with multiple objects. The complex surface features on Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, came into better focus. Each LORRI image was better than the next. The team worked day and night to keep up with the data and images coming down with each transmission from New Horizons. LORRI images were posted on the New Horizons project website so the world could follow along in the excitement.

According to a story published on the topic by The News Independent, “The mission’s latest success on Pluto flyby appears to be in rear view mirror now since scientists are clearly eyeing every important detail on the icy planet. The team is now hoping they’d get approval to spend summer exploring another icy object called 2014 MU69. As a matter of fact, there is still not much on about the surface of the icy rock aside from it makes an orbit around the sun and located a billion-mile away from Pluto. Some astronomers believe that it is a time capsule created in the earliest days of the Solar system. And the only way to confirm that is to get up close.”

“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 clarified. “If they don’t then we would literally turn off the spacecraft this year.” Surprisingly, the New Horizons mission remains as NASA’s least expensive mission with only $700 million total cost over the past nine years or more. It appears to be more $0.15 per person funding per year. If they get another approval from NASA, the team plans to continue flying through the Kuiper Belt and study any KBO that goes along their way.

A report published in ABC News revealed, “The piano-size probe is currently speeding through the Kuiper Belt, a vast area at the edge of the solar system encompassing Pluto and thousands of smaller icy objects. Since traveling beyond Pluto’s orbit, New Horizons has been able to conduct its first science mission: getting a look at 1994 JR1, a 90-mile-wide world in the Kuiper Belt.”

Launched in January 2006 on a 3-billion-mile journey to Pluto, New Horizons phoned home after its Pluto flyby, indicating that it had successfully navigated just 7,700 miles from the dwarf planet. It later sent back the first high-resolution images of Pluto’s surface. New Horizons conserved energy by taking “naps” during the monumental trip. The spacecraft, equipped with a power system that converts radiation from decaying plutonium into electricity, loses about a few watts each year but may have enough power for two more decades of exploration.

New Horizons could explore MU69 as next target – PerfScience