Checking out the Kuiper Belt
New Horizons and its trajectory toward its next Kuiper Belt object of study. Courtesy NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute. (click to enlarge)
This week’s green light signal from the Kuiper Belt-bound New Horizons came when the spacecraft was more than 436 million kilometers from Earth. It was traveling a speed (with respect to the Sun) of 14.2 meters per second. At the rate it’s going, NH will encounter object MU69 on the first day of January 2019. The Voyager and Pioneer spacecraft are much farther away and have sent back information about the interplanetary medium at their locations. They’re moving in other directions, no longer seeking out new worlds. New Horizons is still an active planetary exploration mission, extending our gaze to the Kuiper Belt. You can follow its progress on the mission website.
Reasons For Kuiper Belt Explorations
As NH and other spacecraft move out through these distant reaches, the question comes up: what do we expect to learn out there? Of course, the obvious answer is that we want to find and study other worlds. It’s not likely that NH will find more distant places. However, it is on track ...