Hubble Survey Finds Two Kuiper Belt Objects to Support New Horizons Mission
Hubble Survey Finds Two Kuiper Belt Objects to Support New Horizons Mission
Download Options

Fast Facts
News release ID: STScI-2014-35
Release Date: Jul 1, 2014
Image Use: Copyright
About this image

These images are from a Hubble Space Telescope survey to find Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) in support of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto. The Kuiper Belt is a debris field of icy bodies left over from the solar system's formation 4.6 billion years ago.

Once the New Horizons craft flies by Pluto in mid-2015, the team's goal is to get NASA's approval to retarget the probe to fly by a KBO, which might only measure 20 miles across.

To test the feasibility of finding New Horizons targets with Hubble, a set of pilot Hubble observations were executed in June 2014. After a swift and intensive data analysis of approximately 200 Hubble images, the New Horizons team met the pilot program criterion of finding a minimum of two KBOs.

Multiple exposures taken with Hubble tracked the KBOs moving against the background field of stars in the summer constellation Sagittarius.

The image at left shows a KBO at an estimated distance of approximately 4 billion miles from Earth. Its position noticeably shifts between exposures taken approximately 10 minutes apart. The image at right shows a second KBO at roughly a similar distance.

The positions of these newly discovered objects are not consistent with any KBOs discovered previously. In reality, they are too faint to have been seen with ground-based telescopes (magnitudes 26.8 and 27.3, respectively).

It will be many weeks before the team can establish whether either of these pilot-program KBOs is a suitable target for New Horizons to visit, but their discovery provides sufficient evidence that a wider search to be executed with Hubble will find an optimum object.

Annotated, Astronomical, Hubble Telescope, Kuiper Belt Objects, Solar System


NASA, ESA, SwRI, JHU/APL, and the New Horizons KBO Search Team