NASA New Horizons Targets Kuiper Belt After Pluto Flyby

First Posted: Aug 30, 2015 04:07 PM EDT

NASA has officially selected the next potential destination for the New Horizons mission to visit. After soaring past Pluto, New Horizons will journey to a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) that orbits nearly a million miles beyond Pluto.

The remote KBO is just one of two identified as potential destinations. Although NASA selected the KBO, known as 2014 MU69, as a target, the agency will conduct a more detailed assessment to officially confirm the mission.

"Even as New Horizon's spacecraft speeds away from Pluto out into the Kuiper Belt, and the data from the exciting encounter with this new world is being streamed back to Earth, we are looking outward to the next destination for this intrepid explorer," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and chief of the NASA Science Mission Directorate, in a news release. "While discussions whether to approve this extended mission will take place in the larger context of the planetary science portfolio, we expect it to be much less expensive than the prime mission while still providing new and exciting science."

The object proposed is actually a good choice for New Horizons. It's an ancient KBO and first formed where it orbits now. By studying this KBO, researchers may learn a bit more about the Kuiper belt and how our solar system formed.

"There's so much that we can learn from close-up spacecraft observations that we'll never learn from Earth, as the Pluto flyby demonstrated so spectacularly," said John Spencer, New Horizons team member. "The detailed images and other data that New Horizons could obtain from a KBO flyby will revolutionize our understanding of the Kuiper Belt and KBOs."

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