NASA is about to wake up its New Horizons spacecraft in September after a 5-month hibernation to prepare for a mission that will send it deeper into one of the most mysterious parts of the Solar System.
New Horizons, which captured amazing images of Pluto back in July 2015, was powered down in April to help it conserve energy as it passed through the Kuiper Belt – a region with icy debris around the Sun and planets, which is also referred to as the Third Zone.
On September 11, the New Horizons spacecraft will be awakened ahead of its 16-month journey to MU69, an ancient object that is believed to be one of the early building blocks of the Solar System. Though it is about to be the spacecraft’s next destination, the space object was yet to be discovered when New Horizons launched in 2006. The new mission will be the most distant space exploration in history. To get an idea of the distance, it is a million miles beyond Pluto, and four billion miles from Earth.
Latest observations of MU69 from the Hubble Space telescope show that it is likely that there are two “binary” objects that are stuck together, with each body measuring around 12 miles across.
According to Alan Stern, Principal Investigator for New Horizons at NASA, “We are very likely going to a primordial binary in the Kuiper Belt, a four billion-year old relic of Solar System formation and an exotic building block of the small planets of the Kuiper Belt like Pluto.” He also adds that it is possible that there may be a group of smaller bodies left from the time when the planets in the Solar System were formed.
Scientists are already looking forward to this new exploration as they are expecting it to provide them with data that will help them understand the history of the solar system.