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Tag Archives: Kuiper belt

Mike Brown, the Caltech professor who found a Pluto-sized object past Pluto that led to both being reclassified by the International Astronomical Union as “dwarf planets” (a promotion for Pluto to being the best and biggest of its category, not the demotion you often read about, see The Cosmos, Section 8.1c, pp. 201–202), and Caltech colleague Konstantin Batygin, have deduced the presence of a “superEarth” perhaps 10 times Earth’s size and way far out in the Solar System.


Credit: Caltech AMT

They deduce its presence by its effect on several of the most distant Kuiper-belt objects that Brown and others have found in recent years. So even if Brown’s work led to Pluto no longer being the ninth planet, this could be the real ninth planet. “This may even be real,” they each said to me [The Cosmos author, JMP].

Here are links to some of the press coverage: The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time Magazine.

The scientific paper was published in the Astronomical Journal: “Evidence for a Distant Giant Planet in the Solar System,” Konstantin Batygin & Michael E. Brown, 2016 February, Astronomical Journal.

From an article posted on the New Horizons website on November 5, 2015.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has successfully completed record-setting maneuvers that have set it on course to reach 2014 MU69, which orbits in the Kuiper Belt, in January 2019.

The four propulsive maneuvers were the most distant trajectory corrections ever performed by any spacecraft. The fourth and final maneuver started at approximately 1:15 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Nov. 4, and lasted just under 20 minutes. Data indicating that this final maneuver had been successful reached spacecraft operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, just before 7 p.m. EST on Wednesday.

Credit: The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Credit: The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

The maneuvers didn’t speed or slow the spacecraft, rather they “pushed” New Horizons sideways, giving it a 57 meter per second (128 mile per hour) nudge toward the KBO. 2014 MU69 is around 1 billion miles beyond Pluto, and the aim is for New Horizons to come within even closer range of MU69 than it did to Pluto on July 14, 2015.

The New Horizons team will submit a formal proposal to NASA for the extended mission to 2014 MU69 in early 2016. Curt Niebur, New Horizons program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington said that “this is another milestone in the life of an already successful mission that’s returning exciting new data every day. These course adjustments preserve the option of studying an even more distant object in the future, as New Horizons continues its remarkable journey.”

At the time of November 5th’s maneuver, New Horizons was approximately 84 million miles beyond Pluto and nearly 3.2 billion miles from Earth. The spacecraft is now 895 million miles from MU69, speeding at more than 32,000 miles per hour toward deeper space.

For more information on Kuiper Belt objects, see Chapter 8.2 (p. 202-204) of The Cosmos.

For the original article on the New Horizons website, click here.

From an article published August 28, 2015 on The New York Times website:

Credit: Alex Parker, via NASA

Credit: Alex Parker, via NASA

Fresh from its Pluto flyby in July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has a new mission. The next destination for the probe is to be a much smaller ice ball in the outer Solar System, almost a billion miles beyond Pluto.

If NASA approves the extension to the mission, the spacecraft will visit the icy body known as 2014 MU69 in 2019 to capture photographs and data, in a similar way as for the examination of Pluto. While the vistas of this object would not be as impressive as those of Pluto, it would provide a close-up look at another piece of debris beyond Neptune, part of what is known as the Kuiper belt (see Section 8.2, pp. 202-204 in The Cosmos).

NASA has already examined smaller icy objects like comets, some of which originate in the Kuiper belt, but the flyby of 2014 MU69 will “connect the dots”, says S. Alan Stern, New Horizons’ principal investigator. As an intermediate-size Kuiper belt object, the gap in our knowledge between smaller icy objects and the far greater Pluto will aim to be filled.

The New Horizons spacecraft is to adjust course through a series of four thruster firings in late October and early November. New Horizons would also make more distant measurements of 20 other Kuiper belt objects en route to 2014 MU69.

For more information on spacecrafts flying by comets, see Section 8.3f, pp. 210-214 in The Cosmos.

Link: Full article here

From a NASA press release: After a decade-long journey through our solar system, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto Tuesday, July 14, about 7,750 miles above the surface — roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India – making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth.



The Pluto story began only a generation ago when young Clyde Tombaugh was tasked to look for Planet X, theorized to exist beyond the orbit of Neptune. He discovered a faint point of light that we now see as a complex and fascinating world. New Horizons’ flyby of the dwarf planet and its five known moons is providing an up-close introduction to the solar system’s Kuiper Belt, an outer region populated by icy objects ranging in size from boulders to dwarf planets. Kuiper Belt objects, such as Pluto, preserve evidence about the early formation of the solar system. New Horizons’ almost 10-year, three-billion-mile journey to closest approach at Pluto took about one minute less than predicted when the craft was launched in January 2006. The spacecraft threaded the needle through a 60-by-90 kilometer window in space – the equivalent of a commercial airliner arriving no more off target than the width of a tennis ball. Because New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched – hurtling through the Pluto system at more than 30,000 mph, a collision with a particle as small as a grain of rice could have incapacitated the spacecraft.

Meanwhile, on June 30 in New Zealand, author Jay M. Pasachoff and his team of scientists and students from Williams College, M.I.T. and Lowell Observatory successfully observed a two-minute occultation of Pluto, where the dwarf planet’s 1,500-mile-wide silhouette passed between Earth and a star trillions of miles away in precise line with the Mount John Observatory on New Zealand’s South Island. Read more details via JMP’s opinion piece in the NY Times, below.

Links: NASA press release; image gallery via the NY Times; Jay M. Pasachoff’s article in NY Times; JMP’s scientific results from his occultation observations; coverage of JMP’s NZ occultation trip via S&T and

Adapted from Carnegie Institution of Science press release, March 26, 2014:

A new distant dwarf planet, called 2012 VP113, has been discovered beyond the known edge of the Solar System. It is likely one of thousands of distant objects that are thought to form the so-called inner Oort cloud (see Section 8.2, p. 202). The findings were published March 27 in the journal Nature.

Credit: Scott Sheppard (Carnegie Institution of Science)

The known Solar System can be divided into three parts: the rocky planets like Earth, which are close to the Sun; the gas giant planets, which are further out; and the frozen objects of the Kuiper belt, which lie just beyond Neptune’s orbit. Beyond this, there appears to be an edge to the Solar System where only one object, Sedna, was previously known to exist for its entire orbit. But the newly found 2012 VP113 has an orbit that beyond Sedna’s, making it the furthest known in the solar system. The discovery of 2012 VP113 shows us that Sedna is not unique and is likely the second known member of the hypothesized inner Oort cloud, the likely origin of some comets.

2012 VP113’s closest orbit point to the Sun brings it to about 80 times the distance of the Earth from the Sun (80 AU). The Kuiper belt (composed of thousands of icy objects, including Pluto) ranges from 30 to 50 AU. The Solar System has a distinct edge at 50 AU – prior to this discovery, Sedna was the only object known to stay significantly beyond this outer boundary at 76 AU for its entire orbit.

Links: Carnegie Institution press release; NY Time coverage.