NASA Hubble to Begin Search Beyond Pluto for a New Horizons Mission Target

Jun 20, 2014

By NASA

 

After careful consideration and analysis, the Hubble Space Telescope Time Allocation Committee has recommended using Hubble to search for an object the Pluto-bound NASA New Horizons mission could visit after its flyby of Pluto in July 2015.

The planned search will involve targeting a small area of sky in search of a Kuiper Belt object (KBO) for the outbound spacecraft to visit. The Kuiper Belt is a vast debris field of icy bodies left over from the solar system’s formation 4.6 billion years ago. A KBO has never been seen up close because the belt is so far from the sun, stretching out to a distance of 5 billion miles into a never-before-visited frontier of the solar system.

“I am pleased that our science peer-review process arrived at a consensus as to how to effectively use Hubble’s unique capabilities to support the science goals of the New Horizons mission,” said Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland.

Fully carrying out the KBO search is contingent on the results from a pilot observation using Hubble data.

The space telescope will scan an area of sky in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius to try and identify any objects orbiting within the Kuiper Belt. To discriminate between a foreground KBO and the clutter of background stars in Sagittarius, the telescope will turn at the predicted rate that KBOs are moving against the background stars. In the resulting images, the stars will be streaked, but any KBOs should appear as pinpoint objects.

If the test observation identifies at least two KBOs of a specified brightness it will demonstrate statistically that Hubble has a chance of finding an appropriate KBO for New Horizons to visit. At that point, an additional allotment of observing time will continue the search across a field of view roughly the angular size of the full moon.

4 comments on “NASA Hubble to Begin Search Beyond Pluto for a New Horizons Mission Target

  • @OP – The planned search will involve targeting a small area of sky in search of a Kuiper Belt object (KBO) for the outbound spacecraft to visit. The Kuiper Belt is a vast debris field of icy bodies left over from the solar system’s formation 4.6 billion years ago. A KBO has never been seen up close because the belt is so far from the sun, stretching out to a distance of 5 billion miles into a never-before-visited frontier of the solar system.

    Research and mapping of these objects (and later those of the Oort Cloud) will be critical when humans are seeking the capability to send ships or probes to nearby star-systems.

    Mining such objects for water and materials to fuel nuclear-plasma or fusion rocket engines, (http://www.adastrarocket.com/aarc/VASIMR) or oxygen for crews, is likely to play a crucial part in such missions.



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  • Many people are not aware of the extent or scale of the Solar System.

    All too often it is described showing only the major planets.
    We even have misleading press reports claiming Voyager “left the Solar-System”, when it crossed the Heliopause – (well inside the orbits of the Scattered Disc Objects.) and hundreds of years before it will go beyond the orbits of the outer satellites of the Sun.

    New Horizons – http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/mission/whereis_nh.php

    http://heasarc.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/cosmic/solar_system_info.html
    Pluto is not the only dwarf planet in our solar system – Eris, 27% more massive than Pluto, was discovered in 2003. Eris and its moon Dysnomia have a current distance from the Sun of 97 AU, which is nearly 3 times as far from the Sun as Pluto is. Eris is part of a region of space beyond the Kuiper Belt known as the scattered disc. The scattered disc is sparesely populated with icy minor planets. These so-called Scattered Disc Objects or SDO’s are among the most distant and thus the most cold objects in the solar system. The innermost portion of the scattered disc overlaps with the Kuiper Belt, but its outer limits extend much farther away from the Sun and farther above and below the ecliptic than Belt.



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  • 3
    inquisador says:

    That is extraordinary, Alan. Thank you for that info; I never realised the vast extent of the solar system.

    If it will take Voyager hundreds of years to reach the orbits of the outermost satellites of the sun, then how long, in earth years, would it take one of those outer satellites to complete one solar orbit?



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  • If it will take Voyager hundreds of years to reach the orbits of the outermost satellites of the sun, then how long, in earth years, would it take one of those outer satellites to complete one solar orbit?

    Many small icy bodies are uncharted, but if we look at the dwarf planet Eris:-

    Eris has an orbital period of 557 years, and as of 2011 lies at 96.6 AUs from the Sun,[14] almost its maximum possible distance (its aphelion is 97.5 AU). It came to perihelion between 1698[5] and 1699,[42] to aphelion around 1977,[42] and will return to perihelion around 2256[42] to 2258.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eris_%28dwarf_planet%29#Orbit

    The Wiki page has a wrong claim about space probes being most distant objects, but their is a diagram of Eris orbit which can be enlarged to make it clearer.

    Makemake’s orbit is slightly farther from the Sun in terms of both the semi-major axis and perihelion. Its orbital period is nearly 310 years,[6] more than Pluto’s 248 years and Haumea’s 283 years. Both Makemake and Haumea are currently far from the ecliptic
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makemake_%28dwarf_planet%29#Orbit_and_classification

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oort_cloud – with more enlargeable diagrams.



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