American space agency NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft that made a historic Pluto flyby last year in July has now spotted a new object located in the Kuiper Belt. After traveling for over 10 years and covering 5 billion kilometers, the spacecraft reached Kuiper Belt (area beyond Neptune that contains several mysterious objects from early universe).
New Horizons has clicked the picture of 1994 JR1, an object that measures 145 kilometers in diameter and beamed it back to earth. Located in the Kuiper belt, the object orbits more than 5 billion kilometers from the Sun.
The iconic space shuttle used its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (Lorri) camera to click the image from a distance of nearly 111 million kilometers. It clicked the image last month on April 7-8, however, data communication speed between the spacecraft and scientists on the Earth is very slow (in bits/second) which is why it took nearly a month for the US space agency to process and release the image.
“Combining the November 2015 and April 2016 observations allow us to pinpoint the location of JR1 to within 1,000 kilometers (about 600 miles), far better than any small KBO,” said Simon Porter, a New Horizons science team member from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado.
Previously, scientists believe that JR1 is a quasi-satellite of Pluto, however, observing the location of the object with high accuracy has dispelled any such theory.
JR1 has a rotation period of 5.4 hours which is relatively very fast for any object located in the Kuiper Belt. Porter further explained that scientists used a technique that measures any change in the light reflected from the surface an object to calculate its rotation period.
The spacecraft will make another close encounter with 2014 MU69 on Jan 1, 2019.
The Kuiper belt is a belt of objects orbiting nearly 7 billion kilometers from the Sun and contain objects from early universe. Scientists believe that several massive collisions took place in the region billions of years ago that gave birth to the planets like Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune. Astronomers have spotted three dwarf planets along with 33,000 other objects in the Kuiper belt region.
Moreover, NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft was launched on January 19, 2006, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and moving at a speed of more than 58,000 km/h it flew 12,500 km above the surface of Pluto.