Science & Technology

NASA extends New Horizons mission to Kuiper Belt, tells Dawn to stay at Ceres

Nearly a 12 months after New Horizons’ unprecedented flyby of Pluto, NASA has given the official go-ahead for the probe to fly previous one other icy object within the Kuiper Belt in 2019.

On the similar time, the house company determined to maintain the Dawn spacecraft in orbit across the dwarf planet Ceres, slightly than sending it out to one other asteroid generally known as Adeona.

The choices are a part of NASA’s course of for extending its planetary missions into the 2017-2018 timeframe.

New Horizons’ extension implies that mission operations shall be supported because the piano-sized probe makes its manner towards a Kuiper Belt object referred to as 2014 MU69. The object was detected in 2014 throughout a Hubble Area Telescope seek for post-Pluto targets that might be reached by New Horizons. The mission crew already has been maneuvering the spacecraft in preparation for a flyby on Jan. 1, 2019.

The Kuiper Belt is the icy ring of fabric past the orbit of Neptune, extending out so far as 5 billion miles (55 astronomical items) from the solar.

“The New Horizons mission to Pluto exceeded our expectations and even at present the info from the spacecraft proceed to shock,” Jim Inexperienced, NASA’s director of planetary science, mentioned in today’s announcement. “We’re excited to proceed onward into the darkish depths of the outer photo voltaic system to a science goal that wasn’t even found when the spacecraft launched.”

2014 MU69 is assumed to be 20 to 30 miles broad. It lies a billion miles past Pluto, which is 3 billion miles from Earth.

In the meantime, NASA’s Dawn mission will proceed to circle Ceres, which is a mere 337 million miles away. The Dawn spacecraft was launched in 2007 and spent greater than a 12 months orbiting the asteroid Vesta earlier than transferring on to Ceres.

On Thursday, Dawn formally accomplished its main mapping mission at Ceres. Among the many highlights of that mission have been close-up appears to be like at mysterious vivid spots on Ceres’ floor that scientists suspect have been created by the upwelling of salty subsurface water.

There had been speak of taking Dawn out of Cerean orbit and sending it to fly previous Adeona in 2019, however at present Inexperienced mentioned the spacecraft would stay put.

“The long-term monitoring of Ceres, notably because it will get nearer to perihelion – the a part of its orbit with the shortest distance to the solar – has the potential to present extra important science discoveries than a flyby of Adeona,” he mentioned.

NASA mentioned it will proceed supporting seven different missions in want of extensions, contingent on obtainable sources. These missions embody Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Atmsphere and Risky Evolution (a.ok.a. MAVEN), the Alternative and Curiosity rovers on Mars, the Mars Odyssey orbiter, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the NASA contribution to the European Area Company’s Mars Specific mission.

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