Now more than two years outbound from its historic encounter with Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is on target for a fleeting flyby less than 2,200 miles from 2014 MU69, an icy, city-sized world set to become the most distant object ever visited, just after midnight Jan. 1, 2019, on the U.S. East Coast. Scientists now say the probe may be able to pursue another destination some time in the 2020s.
Ground observations of the New Horizons spacecraft’s next target last month revealed the distant object, lurking in the outer solar system more than four billion miles from Earth, might have an unconventional elongated shape, or even consist of two icy bodies orbiting one another in an age-old cosmic dance.
Two days after NASA’s Juno spacecraft streaked over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, pictures of the solar system’s largest, most powerful storm, have been transmitted to Earth, giving eager scientist close-up views of the 10,000-mile-wide anticyclone where 400-mph winds have been howling for at least 187 years and possibly much longer.
Concerns about the health of the Juno spacecraft’s main engine have compelled NASA managers to keep the research probe in its current arcing, high-altitude orbit around Jupiter, a decision that will delay the full science return from the $1.1 billion mission but should still allow it to meet all predetermined objectives.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft made a high-speed pass less than 3,000 miles over Jupiter’s turbulent clouds Thursday, taking dozens of pictures, measuring radiation and plasma waves, and peering deep inside the planet’s atmosphere, but officials still have not cleared the orbiter’s main engine for a planned maneuver to position the probe in its intended science orbit.
Scientists planning the the next phase of NASA’s New Horizons mission, a robotic craft that completed the first exploration of Pluto in 2015, are going into the flyby of a frozen, faraway city-sized clump of rock on New Year’s Day 2019 armed with little knowledge of the target lurking around 4 billion miles from Earth.