New Horizons Spacecraft Reaches A Milestone As It Travels Half A Distance To Pluto

First Posted: Apr 05, 2017 03:37 AM EDT

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is halfway from its mission to Pluto. It traveled about 486.19 million miles (782.45 million kilometers), which is half a distance from Pluto, on April 3, 2017.

Alan Stern, the He Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, said that the spacecraft is slated to fly by Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 on Jan. 4, 2019. This will be the new record for the most distant world ever traveled in the history of civilization. He also described the spacecraft's milestone as fantastic as it completed half the journey to the next flyby.

Meanwhile, Dr. Hal Weaver, the New Horizons project scientist, said that the January 2019 MU69 flyby is the next big event for them. Furthermore, the scientists plan to investigate over two-dozen other KBOs around and gauge the charged particle and dust environment up into the Kuiper Belt, as noted by Sci-News.

The Kuiper Belt is also referred to as the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt and is like the asteroid belt. It extends from the orbit of Neptune to about 50 AU from the Sun. Kuiper Belt comprises of chiefly small bodies or remnants from the formation of the Solar System and composed mostly of frozen volatile of ices like ammonia, water and methane. Pluto is in the Kuiper Belt as well as the other dwarf planets such as Makemake and Haumea. It is also theorized that Neptune's moon Triton and Saturn's Phoebe originated in the Kuiper Belt.

Meanwhile, 2014 MU69 is somewhat small Kuiper Belt Object (KBO), which has a diameter of 30 miles (48 kilometers). This about over 10 times larger and 1,000 times bigger than the typical comets. On the other hand, it is about 0.5 percent to 1 percent of the size of Pluto. This KBO was identified by astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope on June 26, 2014. Its surface is just as red or if not redder than the surface of Pluto. 

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