The New Horizons spacecraft has spotted a mysterious object from the early solar system moving in the Kuiper belt.
The Kuiper Belt, the area, located beyond the orbit of Pluto, holds trillions of objects leftover from the early solar system and its formation. In order to reach the Kuiper Belt, the New Horizons spacecraft traveled ten years over a distance of 3 BILLION miles in order to reach Pluto. Now that it has finished surveying the dwarf planet and its moons, the spacecraft has set eyes on a different target.
Recently NASA released an image the space agency took of a mystery object in the Kuiper belt referred to as 1994JR1, which is believed to be a 90-mile-wide Kuiper Belt Object, which orbits our star at a distance of 3 BILLION miles.
New Horizons has now observed 1994 JR1 twice in the Kuiper belt, taking images of the object with the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (Lorri) on April 7-8 from a distance of about 69 million miles (111 million km). Interestingly, the previous record held by the New Horizons Spacecraft for the closes-ever views of this KBO was when the spacecraft observed the object in November when it was detected from 170 million miles away.
„The observations contain several important findings,“ said Simon Porter, a New Horizons science team member from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado.
‘Combining the November 2015 and April 2016 observations allows us to pinpoint the location of JR1 to within 1,000 kilometers (about 600 miles), far better than any small KBO,’ he said added.
Several years ago, scientists proposed that this enigmatic object was, in fact, a quasi-satellite of Pluto.However, scientists fro the New Horizons mission hope to dispel the theory providing arguments suggesting otherwise.
According to New Horizons team members, thanks to the closer vantage point of April 2016 observations, scientists were able to determine the mystery objects rotation period, noticing changes in light reflected from the surface of the object which allowed them to conclude it rotates once every 5.4 hours.
‘That’s relatively fast for a KBO,’ said science team member John Spencer, also from SwRI. This is all part of the excitement of exploring new places and seeing things never seen before.’
According to Spencer, these observations are a good practice for possible close-up looks at approximately 20 more objects located in the Kuiper Belt, which may be studied in the coming years, if of course, NASA approved an extended mission.
The New Horizons Spacecraft made history when it flew by dwarf planet Pluto on July 14th, 2015, making the first ever close-up observations of the dwarf planet and its giant family of moons, taking never before seen images of the planet and the surface of its moons.
Currently, New Horizons is traveling towards a close flyby of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69. NASA’s spacecraft is set to reach the object by January 2019.