Antonio Manaytay – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – NASA is inviting everyone to ring in the next year, a year from now, exploring the once unexplored Kuiper Belt as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is expected to fly by the most ancient and most distant object ever studied in the Universe.
The first buzz by will be on Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 orbiting about a billion miles beyond Pluto, solar system’s farthest planet.
“The Voyagers and Pioneers flew through the Kuiper Belt at a time when we didn’t know this region existed,” Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said.
“New Horizons is on the hunt to understand these objects, and we invite everyone to ring in the next year with the excitement of exploring the unknown,” he added.
Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado said the flyby a year from now will be “an exciting sequel to the historic exploration New Horizons performed at Pluto” two years ago.
“Nothing even like MU69 has ever been explored before,” he said.
Along with tens of thousands of other small worlds in the once unknown zone in Kuiper Belt, the MU69 is a mystery that waits to be unraveled.
After it was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014, the New Horizons team had gathered data about MU69 when it passed in front of the three stars.
The data indicated, according to the team, that MU69 could be two objects instead of one with a moon tagging along.
“That tells us this object is going to have a lot of surprises in store for New Horizons,” team member Marc Buie from SwRI said.
“We’re going to see something that dates back to the formation of the solar system,” he confided.
The expected flyby will be about 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) from MU69 will give New Horizons a closer look at the object.
“Combining images with the measurements we make of the composition of the object and the environment around MU69, should teach us a great deal about objects like MU69 that built dwarf planets like Pluto,” Hal Weaver, project scientist of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, said.
The spacecraft is sleeping at present and is due to wake up on June 4, to check up its systems and instruments in preparation for the initial encounter with MU69 by the middle of August.
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