Washington: The New Horizons spacecraft recently captured the closest ever images of a distant Kuiper Belt object, moving against a background of stars.
According to scientists, the object, officially called 1994 JR1, is a 90-mile (150-kilometer)-wide ancient body.
On November 2, 2015, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) instrument on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured four low-resolution images of 1994 JR1.
When these images were made, 1994 JR1 was 3.3 billion miles (5.3 billion miles) from the sun, but only 170 million miles (280 million kilometers) away from New Horizons.
This sets a record, by a factor of at least 15, for the closest-ever picture of a small body in the Kuiper Belt, the solar system’s “third zone” beyond the inner, rocky planets and outer, icy gas giants, says NASA.
New Horizons scientists plan to use images like these to study many more ancient Kuiper Belt objects if an extended mission is approved.
New Horizons flew through the Pluto system on July 14, making the first close-up observations of Pluto and its family of five moons.
The spacecraft is on course for a close flyby of another Kuiper Belt object, 2014 MU69, on Jannuary 1, 2019.