Tales of: The hunt for KBOs

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Tales of ...
Finding potential Kuiper Belt targets for New Horizons Pluto mission
See image below
 

Peering out to the dim, outer reaches of our solar system, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered three Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) the agency's New Horizons spacecraft could potentially visit after it flies by Pluto in July 2015.

The KBOs were detected through a dedicated Hubble observing program by a New Horizons search team that was awarded telescope time for this purpose.

"This has been a very challenging search, and it's great that in the end Hubble could accomplish a detection — one NASA mission helping another," said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission.

The Kuiper Belt is a vast rim of primordial debris encircling our solar system. KBOs belong to a unique class of solar system objects that has never been visited by spacecraft and which contain clues to the origin of our solar system.

The KBOs that Hubble found are each about 10 times larger than typical comets, but only about 1-2 percent of the size of Pluto. Unlike asteroids, KBOs have not been heated by the Sun, and are thought to represent a pristine, well preserved, deep-freeze sample of what the outer solar system was like following its birth 4.6 billion years ago. The KBOs found in the Hubble data are thought to be the building blocks of dwarf planets such as Pluto. (Continued >>)

Artist's impression of a Kuiper Belt object
artist's concept of a Kuiper Belt object at the edge of our solar system
 
This is an artist's impression of the view from a Kuiper Belt object (KBO), located on the outer rim of our solar system at a staggering distance of 4 billion miles from the Sun. The Sun appears as a bright star at image center. The bright "star" to its left is the planet Jupiter; the bright object below it is the planet Saturn. The Earth and other inner planets are too close to the Sun to be visible here. The planets are shown in the positions they will have in late 2018, when the New Horizons probe is 4 billion miles from the Sun.

 

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Tales of: The hunt for KBOs