The New Horizons probe gave us our best look yet at Pluto, a planet that’s quite far away from Earth as far as distance between other planets and our globe goes, but its mission is far from over. New Horizons has bid Pluto farewell and it now speeds towards the Kuiper Belt. It set course for the expansive fossil bed earlier this week after completing its fourth and final engine burn which put in on course for 2014 MU69, a frozen ancient body that’s located some billion miles from Pluto.
To make this journey the probe had to make four propulsive maneuvers via the hydrazine-fueled thrusters that power it. These were the most distant trajectory corrections ever performed by a spacecraft, the maneuvers caused New Horizons to slide sideways as it received a 57 meter per second or 128 miles per hour push towards MU69, ensuring that the probe is able to meet its target in about three years from now.
It was always the plan for New Horizons to explore this corner of space after it did its Pluto flyby. Kuiper Belt is primarily made up of icy debris that hasn’t seen much change over the past few centuries. Flying close to an object in the Kuiper Belt could provide us with valuable information pertaining to the creation and evolution of the Solar System.
As it travels in space for the next three years New Horizons will keep itself busy by sending back data collected from the Pluto flyby, new data will continue to arrive until September 2016, after which we can start looking forward to the images and information it sends back from the Kuiper Belt.