New Horizons changes course for flyby of first post-Pluto destination on New Year’s Day 2019

New Horizons has sped past the Pluto system and is now on its way to its next target in the Kuiper Belt, 2014 MU69. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
New Horizons has sped past the Pluto system and is now on its way to its next target in the Kuiper Belt, 2014 MU69. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

After having completed its successful encounter with Pluto and its moons last July, the New Horizons spacecraft is now setting its sights on its next target much farther out in the Kuiper Belt: a tiny rocky world called 2014 MU69, which is less than 30 miles in diameter and orbits nearly 1 billion miles past Pluto, in the far outer reaches of the Solar System.

Read MoreNew Horizons changes course for flyby of first post-Pluto destination on New Year’s Day 2019

A whole new world: Pluto discoveries published in new ‘Science’ research paper

High-resolution view of Pluto from New Horizons. The large smoother area of ice is the western lobe of the “heart” feature. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
High-resolution view of Pluto from New Horizons. The large smoother area of ice is the western lobe of the “heart” feature. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

It has been three months since the historic close flyby of Pluto by New Horizons, and new discoveries have been coming in quickly about this previously little-known world. The first paper detailing these results so far, “The Pluto System: Initial Results from its Exploration by New Horizons,” has now been published in Science. New Horizons has revealed Pluto and its moons to be more complex and geologically active than ever thought.

Read MoreA whole new world: Pluto discoveries published in new ‘Science’ research paper

Pluto in all its glory: stunning new panorama from New Horizons shows mountains, glaciers and hazes

Stunning new panorama of Pluto backlit by the Sun, showing the icy plains, rugged mountains, and hazes in the atmosphere. The image was taken only 15 minutes after closest approach by New Horizons. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Stunning new panorama of Pluto backlit by the Sun, showing the icy plains, rugged mountains, and hazes in the atmosphere. The image was taken only 15 minutes after closest approach by New Horizons. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

New images of Pluto from the New Horizons spacecraft were released last Thursday… and they are spectacular. The views across Pluto’s icy mountains and plains are haunting and almost surreal, yet familiar looking at the same time. What was once only a tiny pinpoint of light in the night sky is now a complex and fascinating world, in some ways similar to our own, seen close-up for the first time ever.

Read MorePluto in all its glory: stunning new panorama from New Horizons shows mountains, glaciers and hazes

Here it comes! massive downlink of Pluto data starts with spectacular new images

Perspective view of Pluto, composed of the latest high-resolution images. The entire expanse of terrain seen in the image is 1,800 kilometres (1,100 miles) across. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
Perspective view of Pluto, composed of the latest high-resolution images. The entire expanse of terrain seen in the image is 1,800 kilometres (1,100 miles) across. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

After a lull of several weeks, the downlinking of new data from the New Horizons spacecraft has begun, including stunning new images of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, as well as a treasure trove of other scientific data. There is so much to come that it will take about one year to downlink everything from the spacecraft and send back to Earth. Those first amazing images of Pluto and its moons were only the beginning.

Read MoreHere it comes! massive downlink of Pluto data starts with spectacular new images

Onward!: NASA selects next destination for New Horizons in Kuiper Belt

Artist’s conception of New Horizons at 2014 MU69. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker
Artist’s conception of New Horizons at 2014 MU69. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker

It has been nearly a month and a half since the historic flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft, and now the mission team has selected its next target for exploration – a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69, which orbits the Sun about a billion miles further than Pluto. This will be the first time such a remote object in the Kuiper belt has been visited by a spacecraft from Earth.

Read MoreOnward!: NASA selects next destination for New Horizons in Kuiper Belt