Far beyond the orbit of Pluto is the Kuiper belt – a vast area in which numerous ice bodies accumulate. It is from there that long-period comets arrive to us, and the New Horizons spacecraft travels there, finishing the first visit to the system of Pluto and its satellites.
The next target of the probe is the body (486958) 2014 MU69 , opened in 2014. Its orbit lies at an impressive distance of 6.5 billion km from the Earth, so that in 2019, when the device arrives, it will be the most distant of those visited celestial bodies. This is a classic ice object of the Kuiper belt in sizes, according to various estimates, from 20 to 40 km.
The study of such a small body at such a distance is not an easy task. Recently, astronomers analyzed data from observations of the movement of dark MU69 against distant stars, which were obtained by a number of large telescopes, including Hubble, Gaia, and SOFIA. The brief blackout of the stars that created the MU69 in motion allowed us to refine its shape and notice a possible satellite.
Marc Buie, who spoke at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), which is taking place in New Orleans, told about the new finds . According to these data, MU69 has an irregular shape resembling two fused spheres – like peanuts.
In addition, one of the observations, conducted on July 10, showed a one-time shading of the star, which is possibly related to the motion of a satellite orbiting MU69. Whether this is in fact, we’ll find out in about a year: New Horizons will arrive at a new goal in 2019.