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NASA's New Horizons Discovers Mysterious World Beyond Pluto

May 19, 2016 05:58 PM EDT
Artist's impression of New Horizons spacecraft fly-by of Pluto
The 2016 stamps commemorates July 2015 flyby of Pluto by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which is featured in the new “Pluto Explored” Forever stamps
(Photo : NASA/Wikimedia Commons)

After its Pluto flyby on July 14, 2015, NASA's New Horizons space probe is not stopping its interstellar discovery. Recently, the spacecraft has made a stunning discovery -- a mysterious space rock beyond Pluto.

According to a report from the Washington Post, New Horizons has released an image of the distant space object, tagged as 1994 JR1, orbiting three billion miles from the sun. New Horizons first detected the strange object when it was 170 million miles away from it. However, on April 7 and 8, the spacecraft got a closer look at it and took snaps of 1994 JR1 via its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager from a distance of 69 million miles.

Scientists say that the 1994 JR1 is located in the Kuiper Belt, a distant region in our solar system. NASA said that with the help of the newly captured images, the researchers from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) were able to determine that 1994 JR1 is not a mere quasi-satellite of Pluto, as previously theorized. Also, with the images at a closer vantage point, scientists were able to identify that 1994 JR1's location as well as its rotation period. The said object rotates once every 5.4 hours, which is equal to one JR1 day.

John Spencer from SwRI said that New Horizon's observations open a new chapter of discovering more ancient objects in the Kuiper Belt region. He added that in the next years, New Horizons is expected to churn out more close-up snapshots of these objects, given that NASA will extend the spacecraft's mission.

“This is all part of the excitement of exploring new places and seeing things never seen before," Spencer said.

If New Horizon's mission continues, the spacecraft is expected to have an ultra-close flyby of another object in the Kuiper Belt region on Jan. 1, 2019, leading to more outer-space discoveries.

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