New Horizons Probe Is Awake and Ready to Explore the Kuiper Belt

New Horizons Probe Is Awake and Ready to Explore the Kuiper Belt

NASA launched the New Horizons probe to visit Pluto, and it became the first-ever spacecraft to do that several years ago. With that phase of the mission complete, what was a deep space robot to do? NASA decided to keep New Horizons going and take a look at objects in the Kuiper Belt, and the probe has just awoken from a long slumber to prepare for its next flyby.

The Kuiper Belt is a ring of icy objects out past the orbit of Neptune. After being a planet for decades, scientists realized Pluto was just a large Kuiper Belt object and downgraded it to a dwarf planet. The New Horizons mission marked the first time humanity had ever seen such a distant object up close, but the probe is going to break its own record early next year.

New Horizons is perfect for studying other Kuiper Belt objects for several reasons. For one, it’s already out there. It takes years for a spacecraft to reach the outer solar system — New Horizons launched from Earth back when Pluto was still a planet. In addition, its Pluto mission was just a flyby. It would have taken too much fuel to slow the probe down so it could enter orbit of Pluto, so the entire data-gathering phase was just a few hours long. With the spacecraft still perfectly capable of doing science after that, it was an easy choice to keep the probe alive for a Kuiper Belt mission.

According to NASA’s Alan Stern, New Horizons has successfully woken up from hibernation. The probe went into hibernation in late 2017; all main systems powered down, and the computer only sent periodic status updates to Earth. NASA previously confirmed the probe was operational from these signals, but now it’s fully back online. The power-up process went flawlessly, and all systems are functional.

New Horizons Probe Is Awake and Ready to Explore the Kuiper Belt

NASA didn’t know enough about smaller Kuiper Belt objects when New Horizons launched to plan this phase of the mission in advance, but we’ve since learned about several possible targets. The agency settled on MU69, sometimes called Ultima Thule. This object is either one or two chunks of ice and rock around 20 miles (32 km) in diameter. The team will begin preparations for its MU69 approach soon.

Ultima Thule is 1 billion miles (1.6 billion km) past Pluto, which itself is 3 billion miles from Earth. This makes it the most distant object ever visited by an Earth spacecraft. New Horizons will capture high-resolution images of Ultima Thule, which will allow scientists to learn about the composition of these smaller Kuiper Belt objects. The flyby is scheduled for January 2019.

Continue reading

Developer Accidentally Makes Forza Horizon 4 Available for Download 4 Months Early

Forza Horizon 4 isn't set to come out for four more months, but the developers accidentally pushed it out to some fans over the weekend. Of course, downloaders have harvested a partial list of cars from the game files.

New Horizons Detects Wall of Hydrogen Around the Solar System

NASA redirected New Horizons deeper into the Kuiper Belt, and now it has detected something fascinating at the edge of the solar system. Out past the planets, asteroids, and even the comets of the Oort Cloud, there's a wall of hydrogen.

New Horizons Smashes Own Record, Captures First Image of New Destination, Ultima Thule

When the New Horizons probe was launched in 2006, it had a straightforward mission: go into the night and take pictures of our outer solar system and what lies beyond, so we can see what’s out there. Demoting Pluto didn’t reroute the spacecraft nor strike it from the itinerary, though, and after taking a whole…

Forza Horizon 4 at 60fps Is a Thrill on Xbox One X

While Microsoft's first party line-up has suffered a slight slump this generation, one major bright spot is the continued success of the Forza franchise. The track-based "Motorsport" original and the open-world "Horizon" variant continue to deliver solid results year after year, and Forza Horizon 4 doesn't buck that trend.