New target selected for distant Pluto probe


New Horizons will take over 3 years to reach its next target. Image Credit: NASA
NASA’s New Horizons probe might have finished with Pluto but its mission is not over by a long shot.

New Horizons entered the record books earlier this year by becoming the first spacecraft ever to visit Pluto when it passed within 12,500km of the dwarf planet’s surface back in July.

Now it has a new mission that will take it even deeper in to the Kuiper Belt in the hope of learning more about how our solar system formed 4.6 billion years ago. It’s target – a 45km-wide comet-like object known as 2014 MU69 which is situated over 6.5 billion kilometers beyond the orbit of Pluto.

“Even as the New Horizon’s spacecraft speeds away from Pluto out into the Kuiper Belt, and the data from the exciting encounter with this new world is being streamed back to Earth, we are looking outward to the next destination for this intrepid explorer,” said NASA’s John Grunsfeld.

The probe is believed to be carrying enough fuel to keep it going for many more years with scientists estimating that it could keep going until the late 2020s or even in to the 2030s.

If all goes well then it will reach its next destination at the beginning of January 2019.