NASA has announced the destiny of two major spacecraft that are exploring the solar system this week – Dawn and New Horizons.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/McREL
New Horizons, which is best known for having flown past Pluto last year and grabbing some crystal-clear photographs of the dwarf planet, is continuing to rocket out of our solar system.
Beyond Pluto is the Kuiper Belt, and since New Horizons will be heading out there, NASA has long expressed its interest in continuing exploration into the unknown and continuing to make use of New Horizons.
Now it’s official; New Horizons is going to meet up with a Kuiper Belt Object named KBO 2014 MU69. It’s a very cold and rocky little body in the Kuiper Belt that scientists think studying may help us better understand the formation of our solar system.
New Horizons will reach and tango with the object on January 1st, 2019.
“The New Horizons mission to Pluto exceeded our expectations and even today the data from the spacecraft continue to surprise,” said NASA’s Director of Planetary Science Jim Green. “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.”
But New Horizons isn’t the only spacecraft in the solar system that got attention from NASA recently; the American space agency has also made the decision that the Dawn spacecraft, which has been monitoring the dwarf planet Ceres and recently completed its primary mission, is going to stay where it is rather than move away from Ceres to monitor another destination.
NASA’s team has decided that as the dwarf planet gets into the part of its orbit where it’s going to be the closest to the Sun, there is potentially more important data that could be collected.
“The long-term monitoring of Ceres, particularly as it gets closer to perihelion – the part of its orbit with the shortest distance to the sun -- has the potential to provide more significant science discoveries than a flyby of Adeona,” Green said.
With the latest mission objectives now revealed for New Horizons and Dawn, it’s also worth noting that the Juno spacecraft is set to reach its destination at Jupiter this Independence Day. Juno will collect data on Jupiter’s atmosphere and the conditions there so we can better understand the largest planet in our solar system.
Source: NASA via Wired