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Mystery of distant Kuiper Belt object deepens


Posted on Thursday, 17 August, 2017 | Comment icon 10 comments

An artist's impression of what MU69 might look like. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker
The next target of NASA's New Horizons probe is a space rock with some rather intriguing properties.
Following its historic flyby of Pluto two years ago, the spacecraft has been heading towards MU69 - an object with a mass approximately 10,000 times that of the comet visited by ESA's Rosetta probe.

Measuring around 30 miles in diameter and with an orbit that takes it around the Sun once every 295 years, this enigmatic space rock will be the most distant object ever visited in the history of spaceflight.

Now, following a recent opportunity to observe MU69 as it passed in front of a star last month, astronomers have revealed that the probe's new target may not be quite what it seems.

Surprisingly, rather than being a lone spherical object, MU69 may actually be an "extreme prolate spheroid", which means that it is similar in shape to a deflated football.

Its unusual shape may even suggest that there are actually two objects rather than one.

"This new finding is simply spectacular," said mission principal investigator Alan Stern.

"The shape of MU69 is truly provocative, and could mean another first for New Horizons going to a binary object in the Kuiper Belt."

Source: NASA | Comments (10)

Tags: New Horizons, MU69

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Grandpa Greenman on 3 August, 2017, 22:31
WOW, great news.  Horizon, the little spacecraft that could, awesome.  
Comment icon #2 Posted by Hammerclaw on 3 August, 2017, 22:35
Fascinating. 
Comment icon #3 Posted by brizink on 17 August, 2017, 20:22
Sounds pretty unproductive. It's not gonna hit us and we probably won't visit any time soon. Seems like a waste of time and money. I mean someone is earning six figures a year to make reports on this object. I can think of a lot of more productive things to do with that money. Idk like feed people or provide adequate housing for people in need. Perhaps a program that bolsters the economy? He'll, maybe just give me that money and I'll solve some issues with it. Like the potholes on Main St. Or maybe fund an official investigation into Hillary and the DNC.
Comment icon #4 Posted by Trihalo42 on 18 August, 2017, 2:31
The thrill of exploration. Going where no man has gone before.
Comment icon #5 Posted by bigjim36 on 18 August, 2017, 8:47
I think the scientist and I differ on what counts as spectacular, finding out that something that was once thought to be round, is now, potentially, could be, maybe a bit flatter than first thought, doesn't fit my definition of spectacular!
Comment icon #6 Posted by seanjo on 18 August, 2017, 12:31
I find this productive and exciting.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Twin on 18 August, 2017, 21:00
Rosetta comet looked like two objects and Hartley-2 comet looked like two objects. Coincidence? Now MU-69 may look like two objects. Tri-incidence?
Comment icon #8 Posted by qxcontinuum on 19 August, 2017, 2:55
just parallax ...
Comment icon #9 Posted by Astra. on 19 August, 2017, 3:27
Yes, and you would differ..as you are not a scientist....nor, would you probably appreciate much anyway, concerning space exploration and what can, and has already been achieved because of these intelligent and truly amazing people. Personally, I find it all pretty spectacular, especially of what can be learnt. But hey!... whatever floats your boat I guess.
Comment icon #10 Posted by Parsec on 19 August, 2017, 8:01
Will it be a quick flyby or will new horizons stay around it for a couple of orbits?    Being so distant from the sun and having a relatively small reflective surface, what can we expect to see from the pictures sent? 


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