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MU69: New Horizons’ Next Kuiper Belt Target Is One Big Mystery

6 Jul 2017, 23:32 UTC
MU69: New Horizons’ Next Kuiper Belt Target Is One Big Mystery
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Not as advertised? 2014 MU69 could be one big Kuiper Belt mess (NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI/Steve Gribben)

“All bound for Mu Mu Land” — The KLF, ‘Justified and Ancient’ (seems appropriate)

After visiting Pluto on July 14, 2015, NASA’s epic New Horizons mission soared into the great unknown, a.k.a. the Kuiper Belt. This strange region, which extends beyond Pluto’s orbit, is known to be populated with dwarf planets, comets, asteroids and junk that was left behind after the solar system’s formation, five billion years ago.
In an effort to better understand the solar system’s boondocks, New Horizons is on a trajectory that will create a second flyby opportunity. On New Year’s Day 2019, the spacecraft will buzz a mysterious object called 2014 MU69. But although we know this Kuiper Belt Object is out there, astronomers aren’t entirely sure what it is. And that’s a bit of a problem.
For two seconds on June 3, astronomers were presented with an opportunity to better observe MU69, but instead of clearing up its mystery the occultation event has created more questions than answers.
An occultation is when an object, like a distant asteroid, drifts in front of a background star. If astronomers time it perfectly, they ...

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