STATES CHRONICLE – NASA’s New Horizons probe recently took a snapshot of a 90-mile-wide icy object within the Kuiper Belt from a 69 million mile distance. Mission scientists believe that the tiny rock may be a remnant of our solar system’s earliest times and it could provide priceless info on that period.
In the meanwhile, NASA is struggling to obtain the necessary funding to keep the decade-old mission running.
As of now, the space probe is speeding through the Kuiper Belt, an eerie location populated with thousands of icy worlds including the dwarf planet Pluto. After its historic flyby of Pluto last summer, New Horizons is heading to other objects within the Belt, and 1994 JR1 looks like one of the most interesting.
NASA recently unveiled a snapshot of the remote world. The photo which was taken with help from the probe’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager is the closest view of the small rock to date.
The mission team was also able to estimate how fast the object revolves around its own axis. To their surprise, one day on JR1 lasts just 5.4 hours, which is very unusual for a space rock located in the Kuiper Belt.
But calculating the object’s orbital period also helped scientists to dismiss a hypothesis that the small rock may be in fact an ancient satellite of Pluto.
NASA plans to expand the mission and allow the probe explore more than 20 rocks located within the Kuiper Belt. New Horizons scientists believe that one of the most intriguing is 2014 MU69, which should make a nice target for a next flyby scheduled to occur on Jan 1, 2019.
Since 2006, New Horizons has traveled 3 billion miles to reach Pluto, and the NASA teams estimates that it has enough fuel to continue for 20 more years. On July 14, 2015 the piano-sized probe performed the first flyby of planet Pluto.
After it had distanced itself about 7,700 miles from the tiny planet, it beamed back to Earth the first batch of high resolution images of the icy world. From the images, scientists found that Pluto is a much more geologically diverse world than originally expected.
NASA scientists explained that the spacecraft took multiple naps during its historic journey. The probe needs solar energy to convert decaying plutonium into fuel. The system is so energy efficient that it should allow the craft stay on course for about two more decades.
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