Beyond Pluto: New Horizons Is Traveling to 1994 JR1, a New World Even Farther Away

NASA

New Horizons traveled over 3 billion miles and almost 10 years until it finally reached Pluto. If you think that's impressive, get ready for the spacecraft's next target.

New Horizons is going even deeper into space, and if the mission gets final approval, it'll study distant pieces of the early solar system up close for the first time.

Recently, New Horizons has observed a 90-mile-wide object way out in the farthest reaches of the solar system, in the Kuiper Belt. It's called "1994 JR1" and it's part of a whole class of icy bodies called Kuiper Belt objects, or KBOs. Some astronomers describe KBOs as time capsules because they're frozen remnants of the very early stages of our solar system. We could learn a lot about our past by studying them.

We just got our closest look at 1994 JRI in April. Scientists were able to pinpoint its location and figure out it rotates once every 5.4 hours.

"That's relatively fast for a KBO," New Horizons team member John Spencer said in a statement. "This is all part of the excitement of exploring new places and seeing things never seen before." 

1994 JR1 is indicated by the arrow.  NASA

And this KBO is just a dress rehearsal. If NASA approves an extended mission, then New Horizons could study about 20 other KBOs as it passes them. Right now, New Horizons is targeting a KBO called 2014 MU69 for an ultra-close Jan. 1, 2019, flyby