After having completed a wildly successful flyby of Pluto and its moons, the New Horizons spacecraft was given a new target, much farther out in the Kuiper Belt, a smaller space rock called 2014 MU69. Starting on Oct. 22, New Horizons was instructed to perform the first of four targeting maneuvers, which would be needed to guide the spacecraft toward its destination. Now, the fourth maneuver has been successfully completed, putting New Horizons firmly on the path for a January 2019 rendezvous with 2014 MU69.
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.
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.
As new images and data continue to be sent back from the New Horizons spacecraft, scientists have quickly learned that Pluto is a world full of surprises. Today, the mission team revealed that Pluto indeed is a weirdly colourful place – the latest images show blue skies and red water ice. Almost like home, although not quite.
NASA released more new images of Pluto last Thursday, and, as has come to be expected, they are spectacular. The “snakeskin” image shows rippling terrain reminiscent of snakeskin or dragon scales, while other images show Pluto’s surface in the highest colour resolution yet. Spectral maps showing the distribution of methane ice on Pluto’s surface were also released today.