New Horizons explore 2014 MU69 as next mission: Reports – NH Voice

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New Horizons explore 2014 MU69 as next mission: Reports

New Horizons mission team is waiting for approval from NASA for its next mission. The reports suggest that New Horizons could explore an icy rock in the Kuiper Belt 2014 MU69. Kuiper Belt presents many interesting and challenging missions. New Horizons probe could flyby MU69 in January 2019, after its Pluto flyby.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft grabbed headlines last year during its Pluto flyby in July. The probe provided new understandings on the dwarf planet and allowed earth-bound astronomers see Plutonian features in details. Now, New Horizons team wants to use the spacecraft to investigate a Kuiper belt object: 2014 MU69.

It is classical Kuiper belt object. As the New Horizons has surpassed the team’s expectations, the probe has been selected to go beyond Pluto and explore another strange world. Astronomers don’t know much about MU69, but they earlier found that the object may have clues about earliest time of the solar system.

MU69 is orbiting a billion miles past Pluto. It is a cold classical object in the Kuiper belt, a region of the solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune. It is believed that the distant world is undisturbed since the early days of the solar system.

As MU69 is a tiny object and it is far from us, it is nearly impossible for astronomers on earth to study it in details. Although scientists speculate that it is approximately 20-30 miles across, they don’t know whether the dwarf world has any natural satellite.

The Hubble Space Telescope has clicked many pictures of MU69, but they are showing whether the object has a moon or not, said Simon Porter, post-doctoral researcher on the New Horizons mission. “For the big cold classicals, something like 30% has 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”, Porter added.

According to Porter, the New Horizons researchers have been continuously working on the mission to find out how many small Kuiper Belt objects are there.

“It opens with New Horizons closing in on Pluto, with renderings of the spacecraft by Dan Durda, a space artist who also happens to be a scientist on the project (so you know the model is faithful). We fly over the lovely ice-scapes of Pluto that enthralled millions of Internet viewers last summer. But in VR you also can turn around (by the way, the best way to watch these videos is in a swivel chair, or standing up) to look back at the distant sun, or watch the planet’s moon Charon rise over the horizon,” according to a news report published by Air Space Mag.

Two sequences set on the surface are what really highlight the value of VR in showing planetary images. Based on New Horizons data, with terrain modeling by researchers at the Lunar and Planetary Institute and Universities Space Research Association, this is about as real an approximation of what it would be like to stand on Pluto’s surface as you can get right now. Look down and you see snowy plains, with the sounds of ice cracking and shifting, and a few flakes gently falling.

According to a story published on the topic by Nature World News, “Scientists say that the 1994 JR1 is located in the Kuiper Belt, a distant region in our solar system. NASA said that with the help of the newly captured images, the researchers from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) were able to determine that 1994 JR1 is not a mere quasi-satellite of Pluto, as previously theorized. Also, with the images at a closer vantage point, scientists were able to identify that 1994 JR1’s location as well as its rotation period. The said object rotates once every 5.4 hours, which is equal to one JR1 day.”

John Spencer from SwRI said that New Horizon’s observations open a new chapter of discovering more ancient objects in the Kuiper Belt region. He added that in the next years, New Horizons is expected to churn out more close-up snapshots of these objects, given that NASA will extend the spacecraft’s mission. “This is all part of the excitement of exploring new places and seeing things never seen before,”

A report published in Red Orbit revealed, “Looking at 1994 JR1 is something like a warmup for New Horizons’ hopeful future—its team is awaiting approval to extend the spacecraft’s mission in order to fly by another KBO, titled 2014 MU69, in 2019. During this mission, it will hopefully be able to grab close-ups of some potential 19 other KBOs as well.”

This new knowledge means that scientists can rule out a previous theory about the KBO—namely, that it was a quasi-satellite of Pluto. Further, the newest observation has led to scientists identifying 1994 JR1’s rotation period (how long it takes to complete one revolution, or a day for the object). By analyzing the changes in light that was reflected off its surface, they were able to gather that it makes a full rotation every 5.4 hours.

New Horizons explore 2014 MU69 as next mission: Reports – NH Voice