NASA is sending its Pluto probe to a new target it barely knows. Here’s what it wants to find out.
NASA’s New Horizons mission has captured incredible images of Pluto and its lone Charon with a survey conducted in July 2015.
It put a new mission, formalized in 2016, which was not possible in its first launch in 2006. Currently, the team is working with other NASA projects to get the information you need to make your next stop a success .
Its new target is a dark fate known as MU69 name in 2014, astronomers were first identified in 2014. It is located in the Kuiper belt, a ring of dwarf planets, comets and other icy bodies that are between 30 and 55 times Farther from the sun than the Earth is.
This is, remarkably, the same general area as Pluto, although MU69 is almost one billion kilometers from the degraded planet. New Horizons will arrive on January 1, 2019.
And now, scientists do not really know what they are going to find when the spacecraft eventually does. The choice of destination was determined largely by logistics:
The New Horizons team knew they wanted to visit a Kuiper belt item, but they had to find one that they could actually accomplish given the amount of fuel available in the spacecraft. This was reduced to only five options, all of which were identified in 2014. MU69 was the easiest to achieve.
Astronomers have many questions about the Kuiper Belt and MU69 in general. There are only 25 years since the first object of the Kuiper belt was seen, and the area is so far away that it is difficult to define the size of individual objects.
This is also true for MU69. At present, scientists believe it is at most 12 to 25 miles wide, roughly the size of a large US city, but they may also be smaller.
And some unusual results from an observation made in June also puzzled astronomers – suggesting that MU69 might be very reflective, or perhaps two or more objects grouped together.
From the visions, the Hubble Space Telescope captured MU69 objects, as they appear to be a range of different colors, another mystery that scientists want to address. Colors can be caused by different layers that occur throughout the surface, and by different patterns of alteration and rash affecting these layers.
The New Horizon fly-over MU69 should clarify these issues as well as astronomers more about Kuiper Belt objects in general. Scientists expect these objects because they are so far from the sun, it has literally icy features of the solar system over time.
How will overflight occur
This is a risky mission: the Kuiper belt is full of small objects, which means a lot of a spaceship.
So to try to keep them safe New Horizons, NASA and Monday to its German counterpart organized a mission with a telescope with air base called the Stratospheric Observatory for infrared astronomy, or Sofia.
Here’s how it works: First, astronomers calculate when MU69 would terminate between a star and Earth, and where on Earth’s surface, the shadow that the arrangement would create would fall. Then they flew to Sofia to satisfy half the shadow, in this case of the Pacific Ocean.