NASA Extends New Horizons Mission to Go Further Into the Kuiper Belt

This image of Pluto was produced by the New Horizons composition team, using a pair of Ralph/LEISA instrument scans obtained at approximately 9:40 AM on July 14, from a mean range of 67,000 miles. Three infrared wavelength ranges (2.28-2.23, 1.25-1.30 and 1.64-1.73 microns) were placed into the three color channels (red, green and blue, respectively) to create this false color Christmas portrait. (PHOTO CREDIT: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)
This image of Pluto was produced by the New Horizons composition team, using a pair of Ralph/LEISA instrument scans obtained at approximately 9:40 AM on July 14, from a mean range of 67,000 miles. Three infrared wavelength ranges (2.28-2.23, 1.25-1.30 and 1.64-1.73 microns) were placed into the three color channels (red, green and blue, respectively) to create this false color Christmas portrait. (PHOTO CREDIT: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Some spacecraft are like gifts that keep on giving, and NASA’s New Horizons, having made flybys of Jupiter in 2007 and Pluto in 2015, is already one such. And to prove the point some more, NASA approved over the weekend to extend its mission to go further into the Kuiper Belt to explore an ancient object, which is a remnant from the time when the planets in our Solar System first formed.

When New Horizons sent back pictures of Pluto earlier in 2016, it was the first time scientists got a close-up look at the dwarf planet, once considered the ninth planet in our planetary system. And now, the folks at NASA have decided to send the spacecraft farther into the outer reaches of the Solar System, to explore a body discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014, eight years after New Horizons had already left to study Pluto.

The Kuiper Belt Object, the spacecraft is now heading for, is provisionally called 2014 MU69. According to a statement on NASA’s website, “the spacecraft’s planned rendezvous with the ancient object — considered one of the early building blocks of the solar system — is Jan. 1, 2019.”

“We’re excited to continue onward into the dark depths of the outer solar system to a science target that wasn’t even discovered when the spacecraft launched,” Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science, said in a statement.

But why is it exciting to study this far away object, about one billion miles farther away from Pluto?

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SOURCE: International Business Times, Himanshu Goenka