Two years on, the Kuiper Belt is in sight

ON SEPTEMBER 11th, nearly 6bn kilometres from Earth, beyond the orbit of Neptune, a spacecraft emerged from hibernation. The primary task of New Horizons, launched by NASA in 2006, was to explore Pluto. It completed that mission in July 2015, zooming past Pluto at almost 50,000kph, then spending over a year transmitting back a trove of data and images that astronomers are still analysing.

Now, after five months asleep, New Horizons is turning its attention to its secondary objective, which is to explore the even more remote Kuiper Belt. A much larger analogue of the asteroid belt, the Kuiper Belt is a cosmic junkyard, full of rubble thought to be left over from the formation of the solar system. But whereas the asteroid belt is made mostly of rock and metal, objects in the Kuiper Belt are composed largely of frozen water, ammonia and methane. Pluto is one such chunk, albeit considerably…Continue reading
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