Past Pluto –“NASA Heads New Horizons Spacecraft Towards a Mysterious Red Object”

 

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The main post-Pluto flyby target of New Horizons is an ancient object called 2014 MU69. The spacecraft will approach it in the fall of 2018, and complete its closest approach around New Year’s, passing less than 2,000 miles from the surface. MU69 is the smallest Kuiper Belt object yet to have its color measured. The redness indicates the presence of a molecule class called tholin, which features heavily over icy objects like the others in the Cold Classical part of the region.


So when New Horizons passes by on January 1, 2019, it’ll be collecting data on among the oldest, most primordial building blocks ever known, and will cement MU69’s status as a Cold Classical object.

In her presentation “Hubble Reveals that New Horizons Flyby Target 2014 MU69 Is Red,” during the American Astronomical Society’s annual conference this week, astronomer Amanda Zangari, explained that her team measures such objects on a color scale. MU69 is “redder” than Pluto, which means it’s indeed a true member of the Cold Classical belt — the region that houses some of the most ancient material known to our solar system.

"The reddish color tells us the type of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 is," said Amanda Zangari, a New Horizons post-doctoral researcher from Southwest Research Institute. "The data confirms that on New Year's Day 2019, New Horizons will be looking at one of the ancient building blocks of the planets."

 

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The New Horizons spacecraft is currently 3.4 billion miles (5.5 billion kilometers) from Earth and about 340 million miles (540 million kilometers) beyond Pluto, speeding away from the sun at about nine miles (14 kilometers) every second.

The Kuiper Belt is divided into several different regions, including the Cold Classical, where 2014 MU69 is located, that tends to have objects with small orbital tilts that don’t interact with each other — which means they’re largely pristine bodies that the scientists believe to be remnants of the primordial discs that formed the planets of our solar system. This object was originally discovered by the Hubble Telescope.

The Daily Galaxy via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Image credit top of page: pics-about-space.com

 

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