It’s been 10 years since NASA launched the New Horizons mission, and the flyby of Pluto was a complete success. But the craft is still functioning just fine, so the space agency is working to line up the next target.
The New Horizons team is pitching a visit to 2014 MU69, an icy rock in the Kuiper Belt that orbits the sun a billion miles beyond Pluto. Some scientists believe it could hold some answers about the formation of our solar system. The New Horizons craft has already executed the necessary maneuvers to be heading in the direction of MU69, but NASA still has to officially approve to keep the project active. If not, the project (and craft) will essentially be turned off.
“The Kuiper Belt in general, and the cold classical objects especially, are the most primordial objects," Simon Porter, post-doctoral researcher on the New Horizons mission, told Popular Science. "They were never pushed around by the giant planets; they’re pretty much where they formed and haven’t been disturbed except for occasionally bumping into each other.”
Though it’s not official, the odds favor an extension for New Horizons. The project cost a mere $700 million (which is chump change for NASA’s budget of billions), and it’s already generated international headlines thanks to the Pluto success. Plus, how often will NASA already have a craft this close to the area? So it’d be scientifically valuable, and create some positive PR buzz, if NASA opts to keep it around.
The New Horizons team hopes to hear something official this summer from NASA. Fingers crossed it keeps on flyin’.
(Via Popular Science)