The Kuiper Belt object MU69 may have a smaller companion
Alex Parker/SwRI, JHUAPL, NASA
NEW ORLEANS — The New Horizons team may get more than it bargained for with its next target. Currently known as 2014 MU69, the object might, in fact, be two rocks orbiting each other — and those rocks may themselves host a small moon.
MU69 orbits the sun in the Kuiper Belt, a region more than 6.5 billion kilometers from Earth. That distance makes it difficult to get pictures of the object directly. But last summer, scientists positioned telescopes around the globe to catch sight of MU69’s shadow as it passed in front of a distant background star (SN Online: 7/20/17), a cosmic coincidence known as an occultation.
Analyzing that flickering starlight raised the idea that MU69 might have two lobes, like a peanut, or might even be a pair of distinct objects. Whatever its shape,