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New Horizons’ next target might have a moon

The Kuiper Belt object MU69 may have a smaller companion

By
6:49pm, December 12, 2017

WORKING FOR PEANUTS  NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is racing toward a rock in the Kuiper Belt called MU69. Early reconnaissance suggests that the object might be shaped like a peanut (as seen in this artist’s illustration), or could be two separate bodies.

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,

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