New Horizons’ next target
Could NASA’S New Horizons spacecraft be heading toward a binary object?
New Horizons scientists are preparing for the most distant flyby in the history of space exploration. On 17 July 2017, ground-based telescopes in a remote part of Argentina detected the momentary shadows of the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) 2014 MU69 passing in front of a distant star. MU69’S orbit is some 1.6 billion kilometres beyond that of Pluto. This detection has provided vital information about the next destination of the New Horizons spacecraft and gives us a further understanding of the size, shape, orbit and environment surrounding MU69.
These new observations have suggested that the target may not be a lone spherical object as originally thought, but more of a rugby ball shape. Or it could be two objects orbiting very close together or even touching. Marc Buie, the
New Horizons co-investigator, is enthusiastic and curious about the new findings. “These exciting and puzzling results have already been key for our mission planning but also add to the mysteries surrounding this target leading into the New Horizons encounter with
MU69, now less than  months away.”
Below: Technicians preparing New Horizons in a clean room prior to its launch in 2006 New Horizons aims to come within 3,500 kilometres of MU69 at its closest approach — three-times closer than the Pluto flyby uranus The expected trajectory of New Horizons’ KBO flyby on 1 January 2019 neptune earth jupiter saturn pluto new Horizons KBO 2014 Mu64