NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft continues to downlink data taken during its July flyby of the Pluto system. But, that doesn’t mean it’s done taking new images. On November 2, the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) imaged an icy, ancient object called 1994 JR1. It’s a 90-mile wide object that sits in the Kuiper Belt.
The four frames also set a new record for the closest-ever picture of a small body in the Kuiper Belt. When New Horizons captured these images, 1994 JR1 was a staggering 3.3 billion miles away from the Sun. New Horizons was only 170 million miles away. Yep, space is damn big.
So why 1994 JR1? The New Horizons team took the images to show NASA how the spacecraft can monitor Kuiper Belt objects in the coming years. If NASA decides to approve a mission extension into the Kuiper Belt. Should a mission extension happen, New Horizons already has a potential target. 2014 MU69. It sits nearly a billion miles beyond Pluto and is believed to be about 45 kilometers across. Much larger than a comet, but also much smaller than Pluto.
If NASA decides to extend New Horizons’ mission (they better), the spacecraft will reach 2014 MU69 on January 1, 2019.
You are looking at a swath of Pluto nearly 50 miles wide and stretching for about 500 miles northwest of Sputnik Planum. New Horizons’ LORRI instrument captured the images over about a minute from a distance of 10,000 miles on July 14.
New Horizons lecture next week
Live in the D.C. area? Head on over to the Pickford Theater at the Library of Congress on December 8th at 11:30 am ET. Dennis Reuter, a New Horizons co-investigator and instrument scientists for Ralph (color imager and infrared spectrometer) will be giving a lecture on the first close-up images of Pluto. Here’s a link with more info if you’re interested.