With Pluto in New Horizons' rear view mirror, it's time to fly to its next destination: the Kuiper Belt. Months before New Horizons zipped past Pluto, scientists identified three potential targets in the Kuiper Belt that the spacecraft could observe. The likeliest target is named PT1, and New Horizons could fly past it in 2018 or 2019.
The three potential targets are each about 1 billion miles past Pluto. Even before making a formal request to extend the mission, scientists will work with NASA to settle on the spacecraft's next destination. In the fall, New Horizons will fire its engines and head off toward another icy world.
Kuiper belt objects are small and faint, making them difficult to detect from ground-based telescopes. Scientists used the Hubble Space Telescope to identify three potential targets (PT). The closest target is known as PT1.
The National Academy of Science has encouraged NASA to visit a small Kuiper belt object, one that is only 12 to 31 miles wide. Astronomers estimate that PT1 is at the upper end of that range.
Sources: NASA EPA, John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Design by Priya Krishnakumar and Kyle Kim.