The mission to object MU69, situated 1 billion miles beyond Pluto, could hold vital clues as to how our solar system was created.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has had a successful journey since it first launched into our solar system back in 2006. With an impressive fly-by of Pluto last July, it’s been given a new mission before it runs out of fuel, a trip that was approved by NASA this week.
The spacecraft will aim towards 2014 MU69, a very ancient and tiny object, in order to help understand the origins of our solar system. It’s situated almost 1 billion miles beyond Pluto and these objects are thought to have been in place since the birth of our solar system – in other words, they are like little time capsules holding clues to how our solar system came together, according to a report by New Scientist.
“It’s extremely good news that NASA’s approved the mission extension,” says Wesley Fraser of Queens University Belfast in the UK, who investigates the origins of the solar system. We think they formed a lot closer to one another then pushed each other around into their current orbits, but the small stuff ended up in the Kuiper belt.”
The New Horizons is expected to arrive at the object, measuring just 13 to 25 miles across and is thought to be over 4 billion years old, on January 1 2019.
“I’ve spent quite a few years looking for rocks in the outer solar system, and MU69 is the last hope to identify rock, what kind, and how much might be there,” says Fraser. “It will tell us about the geology of things crashing together.”
The NASA announcement has pleased researchers who believe this is an exciting age to discover more about the universe.
“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,” Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science, said in a statement.