gaia Wishes NEw Horizons Success

After its successful visit to Pluto, NASA's New Horizons mission is currently on its way to its next flyby target, a Kuiper Belt Object called 2014 MU69. On 1 January 2019, the spacecraft will be passing MU69 with a velocity of about 56,000 kilometres per hour. At the moment, little is known of this Kuiper Belt Object (KBO). It is located at about 1.6 billion kilometres beyond Pluto, is thought to be about 40 kilometres across, and was only discovered on 26 June 2014.

To get insight in the environment of 2014 MU69, several occultation campaigns are planned in 2017. This will help preparing the encounter and understanding the risks involved in the flyby. If any hazards like rings or dust or debris are found near the target, it might affect the planned flyby. The first occultation campaign took place on 3 June 2017 in South Africa and Argentina. More than 50 New Horizons team members were deployed to observe the occultation that was expected to last no more than 2 seconds. During the past weeks, the New Horizons team has been looking into the data of this first occultation event.

Figure 1: NASA's New Horizons mission [Image credit: NASA]

Another two occultation campaigns are coming up on 10 July and on 17 July. On 10 July, the shadow of the predicted occultation falls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean so NASA's airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) will be deployed to make observations with its 2.5 meter telescope. Using a plane also removes the possible observation obstacle of having bad weather conditions. On 17 July, the predicted occultation path crosses the far southern lands in Patagonia, Argentina.

As a collaborative partner in the occultation campaigns of the New Horizons mission, Gaia wishes New Horizons success with the upcoming observations.

Figure 2: The pathway to MU69. The position of Pluto is shown with respect to the MU69 flyby day. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

[published: 10/07/2017]