The New Horizons space probe delivers rare first image of icy world and remnant of early solar system, after its historic brush with Pluto.
The piano-size probe is currently speeding through the Kuiper Belt, a vast area at the edge of the solar system encompassing Pluto and thousands of smaller icy objects. Since traveling beyond Pluto’s orbit, New Horizons has been able to conduct its first science mission. That is getting a look at 1994 JR1, a 90-mile-wide world in the Kuiper Belt. And as expected the space probe delivers rare first image of icy world.
NASA released an image of 1994 JR1, taken by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager from a distance of 69 million miles — the closest look yet at the Kuiper Belt object. The probe allowed the New Horizons team to determine that the object rotates once every 5.4 hours, which is surprisingly fast for an object in the Kuiper Belt.
Understanding the object’s orbit has allowed researchers to disprove the hypothesis that JR1 is a satellite of Pluto.
If NASA approves an extended mission for the probe, it could get closer looks at more than 20 other objects in the Kuiper Belt, including an incredibly close flyby of object 2014 MU69, potentially slated for Jan. 1, 2019.
Launched in January 2006 on a 3-billion-mile journey to Pluto, New Horizons phoned home after its Pluto flyby, indicating that it had successfully navigated just 7,700 miles from the dwarf planet. It later sent back the first high-resolution images of Pluto’s surface.
New Horizons conserved energy by taking “naps” during the monumental trip. The spacecraft, equipped with a power system that converts radiation from decaying plutonium into electricity, loses about a few watts each year but may have enough power for two more decades of exploration, according to NASA.