The New Horizons probe is on its way to Pluto and is slated for a fly by on July 14, 2015. After that, what’s next? A close encounter with a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) is also a major goal for the New Horizons project. But, ground-based telescopes haven’t been able to find a suitable KBO for New Horizons and time is running out for scientists.
Scientists received some good news today. The New Horizons project is being allotted a two-week observation program using the Hubble telescope to find a KBO for the probe to explore after it visits Pluto.
Lead scientist Alan Stern is confident Hubble can find a suitable KBO. He told Discovery News, “Hubble can knock this out in a couple of weeks with a 95 percent probability of success.”
Should the two-week search prove fruitful, scientists will get a bit time with Hubble to get details on the target’s orbit and maybe find another object for New Horizons to go after.
Even then, sending the New Horizons probe to a KBO isn’t set in stone. According to Nature, NASA hasn’t approved funding to go to a second target following Pluto. But as Nature puts it, “without a candidate KBO the question was moot.”
Let’s hope the Hubble can find a suitable target and New Horizons can go explore areas never explored before.
We’ve talked about scientists looking for Kuiper Belt Objects, but what exactly is out there? Scientists believe the Kuiper Belt contains intact objects left over from the solar system’s formation more than 4 billion years ago.
First, New Horizons will fly by Pluto. Some scientists theorize that Pluto may generate enough internal heat to have an underground ocean. New Horizons may shed some light on this theory as it approaches the former planet next year.