JUL 20, 2017 5:59 AM PDT

NASA Scientists Spot Occultation Caused by a Future New Horizons Target

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

New Horizons made history when it completed the primary goal of flying past Pluto in 2015, but the probe is far from finished exploring. Last year, NASA decided a distant Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) dubbed 2014 MU69 would become the probe’s next flyby target, and scientists are eager to use this flyby to learn more about objects in the Kuiper Belt.

An artist's impression of New Horizons flying past KBO 2014 MU69.

Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker

In three separate observations, scientists from NASA’s New Horizons team set out to find 2014 MU69 by way of ground-based mobile telescopes. To spot it, they were taking advantage of a phenomenon known as an occultation, which is when the KBO passes in front of a distant star and causes the light from that distant star to disappear momentarily.

On Sunday, July 17th, NASA scientists got lucky and spotted what they were looking for in their third observation. After setting up their telescopes in Argentina and focusing them all on one region of the sky, they successfully captured the occultation caused by 2014 MU69.

In the video below, you can see how the star in the middle of the frame seems to “disappear” from view for a fraction of a second; 2014 MU69 caused this to happen by obstructing our line of sight with the unnamed star.

Related: These KBOs tell us Neptune's formation was smoother than originally thought

Although these tiny telescopes can’t get the close-up details we’d expect from a probe flyby, scientists can still use these observations to determine 2014 MU69’s color, size, and whether it has any satellites; these are pressing mysteries that scientists want to solve.

Knowing these details ahead of time can better prepare NASA for the flyby. For example, New Horizons' NASA will need to adjust New Horizons' imaging equipment for more exposure if 2014 MU69 has a darker surface; conversely, the imaging equipment will be configured with less exposure if 2014 MU69 has a lighter surface.

The local Argentinian community worked closely with the scientists to make the observations possible. Major highways were shut down, street lights were turned off, and large freight trucks were parked around the crew to block out light that could interfere with the research.

New Horizons will fly past 2014 MU69 on January 1st, 2019, providing humanity with the first-ever close-up images of a Kuiper Belt Object. 2014 MU69 will also become the most distant object ever observed by any spacecraft.

There are indeed exciting times ahead in space exploration. We can't wait to see what becomes of the research as a whole.

Source: NASA

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JUL 04, 2021
Space & Astronomy
After the Big Bang Came the Cosmic Dawn
JUL 04, 2021
After the Big Bang Came the Cosmic Dawn
It's been estimated that the universe began about 13.8 billion years ago in a violent explosion known as the Big Bang. R ...
JUL 18, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Climate Change has Tilted the Axis of the Earth
JUL 18, 2021
Climate Change has Tilted the Axis of the Earth
The axis of the Earth intersects the planet at the magnetic pole, and Earth's poles are known to wander. They can even f ...
AUG 18, 2021
Space & Astronomy
The Size of Black Holes Depends on their Feeding Patterns
AUG 18, 2021
The Size of Black Holes Depends on their Feeding Patterns
The feeding patterns of black holes are directly correlated to their size. The corresponding study was published in  ...
OCT 18, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Unusual Signals are Emitting From the Direction of the Milky Way's Center
OCT 18, 2021
Unusual Signals are Emitting From the Direction of the Milky Way's Center
An unusual signal has been detected coming from center of the Milky Way - or that direction.
OCT 25, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Spaceflight Seems to Raise Levels of Circulating Cell-Free Mitochondrial DNA
OCT 25, 2021
Spaceflight Seems to Raise Levels of Circulating Cell-Free Mitochondrial DNA
Spaceflight is being marketed as a tourist opportunity for extremely wealthy people, and lengthy space missions that cou ...
DEC 28, 2021
Space & Astronomy
You Can Follow NASA's Webb Telescope On Its Journey Through Space
DEC 28, 2021
You Can Follow NASA's Webb Telescope On Its Journey Through Space
After a long series of delays and pushbacks, the James Webb Space Telescope successfully launched into space this past C ...
Loading Comments...