New Hori­zons’ next tar­get

Could NASA’S New Hori­zons space­craft be head­ing to­ward a bi­nary ob­ject?

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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 [12] 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

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