NASA New Horizon Probe To Get Help From Hubble Space Telescope
July 3, 2014

NASA New Horizons Probe To Get Help From Hubble Space Telescope

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

In 2006, NASA launched its New Horizons probe to explore the outer reaches of our Solar System and beyond. Fast forward eight years and the craft is now going to be getting a little direction with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The space agency announced on Wednesday that Hubble will begin searching for an ideal outer solar system object that New Horizons could fly by as it moves past Pluto in July 2015.

The Hubble will start looking for targets this month in the debris field of icy bodies left over from the solar system's formation known as the Kupier belt. The search for a Kupier belt object (KBO) was inspired by a sequence of observations made during discretionary time on Hubble.

"Once again the Hubble Space Telescope has demonstrated the ability to explore the Universe in new and unexpected ways," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Hubble science is at its best when it works in concert with other NASA missions and ground based observatories."

The Hubble observations led to the identification of two potential KBOs and a wider search will be conducted if these two are found to be insufficient.

"I am delighted that our initial investment of Hubble time paid off. We are looking forward to see if the team can find a suitable KBO that New Horizons might be able to visit after its fly-by of Pluto." said Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI).

From June 16 to June 26, the New Horizons team used Hubble to execute a search to view how many small KBOs are in the outer rim of our solar system. Hubble viewed 20 areas of the sky to spot any small KBOs and the team examined each of the pilot program pictures with software tools that accelerated the recognition process. Hubble's sharp vision and distinctive sensitivity allowed very faint KBOs to be discovered as they drifted against the far more faraway background stars, objects that had eluded searches by some of the world's biggest ground-based telescopes.

In June, NASA announced it would be using New Horizons to investigate the ice-covered surface of Charon, Pluto’s moon, to determine whether or not the interior of the moon was warm enough to have been home to a subterranean ocean of liquid water.

“Our model predicts different fracture patterns on the surface of Charon depending on the thickness of its surface ice, the structure of the moon’s interior and how easily it deforms, and how its orbit evolved,” Alyssa Rhoden, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said at the time. “By comparing the actual New Horizons observations of Charon to the various predictions, we can see what fits best and discover if Charon could have had a subsurface ocean in its past, driven by high eccentricity.”

Pluto and Charon are suspected of having a surface temperature 380 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. While this is much too cold for liquid water to exist on the surface, underneath the surface might be a different story.

Image 2 (below): These two multiple-exposure images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope show Kuiper Belt objects, or KBOs, against a background of stars in the constellation Sagittarius. The two KBOs are roughly 4 billion miles from Earth. Credit: NASA, ESA, SwRI, JHU/APL, New Horizons KBO Search Team


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