NASA's New Horizons team observes 2014 MU69, a Kuiper belt object in the outer solar system

NASA's New Horizons team have successfully detected the next target of the spacecraft, using a number of ground based telescopes in a remote location in Argentina. The primitive object, known as 2014 MU69, is more than 6.5 billion kilometers away from the Earth. The Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) was imaged as it passed in front of a distant and unnamed star. The event is known as an occultation, and the campaign is considered to be one of the most challenging ground based observations conducted so far.

New Horizons, the fastest spacecraft built by man.

The New Horizons spacecraft.

The observations will help scientists better understand the size, shape, orbit and environment around 2014 MU69. Even the Hubble Space Telescopes, one of the most powerful astronomical instruments deployed so far, could not accurately establish the size and shape of the KBO. Over a congratulatory call to the team, NASA’s director of planetary science, Jim Green said, "It was the most historic occultation on the face of the Earth. You pulled it off and you made it happen."

MU69, the next target. Image: Nasa.

2014 MU69, the next target. Image: NASA.

24 mobile telescopes were deployed in the remote region, and five of these have been confirmed to have observed the occultation event. As a result, scientists have an idea of the size and shape of 2014 MU69 for the first time. The observations will be useful in preparing New Horizons spacecraft of its flyby of the KBO, which will be a record for the most distant object explored by man so far. The New Horizons probe is scheduled to fly past 2014 Mu69 on 1 January, 2019.

Updated Date: Jul 21, 2017 10:01 AM