Unexpected Discovery by NASA’s New Horizons Redefines Solar System’s Outer Edge

Kuiper Belt Object Art Concept

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New Horizons spacecraft’s observations recommend the Kuiper Belt extends far beyond its idea limit, possibly suggesting a bigger area or a 2nd belt filled with icy, rocky items, challenging existing planetary system designs. Credit: SciTechDaily.com

< period class ="glossaryLink" aria-describedby ="tt" data-cmtooltip ="<div class=glossaryItemTitle>NASA</div><div class=glossaryItemBody>Established in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. Its vision is &quot;To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity.&quot; Its core values are &quot;safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence, and inclusion.&quot; NASA conducts research, develops technology and launches missions to explore and study Earth, the solar system, and the universe beyond. It also works to advance the state of knowledge in a wide range of scientific fields, including Earth and space science, planetary science, astrophysics, and heliophysics, and it collaborates with private companies and international partners to achieve its goals.</div>" data-gt-translate-attributes="[{"attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"}]" tabindex ="0" function ="link" > NASA‘sNewHorizons has actually found suddenly high dust levels in the< period class ="glossaryLink" aria-describedby ="tt" data-cmtooltip ="<div class=glossaryItemTitle>Kuiper Belt</div><div class=glossaryItemBody>The Kuiper Belt is a region in our outer solar system where a large number of &quot;short-period&quot; comets, with orbits less than 200 years, can be found. It is located from about 30 to 50 astronomical units (AU) away from the Sun, starting near Neptune&#039;s orbit. It is estimated that the Kuiper Belt could contain up to 100 million comets.</div>" data-gt-translate-attributes="[{"attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"}]" tabindex ="0" function ="link" >KuiperBelt, meaning a bigger stretch or a brand-new belt, improving our understanding of the planetary system’s external edge.

New observations from NASA’sNewHorizons spacecraft tip that theKuiperBelt– the huge, far-off external zone of our planetary system occupied by numerous countless icy, rocky planetary foundation– may extend much further out than we believed.

Speeding through the external edges of theKuiperBelt, nearly60 times further from theSun thanEarth, theNewHorizonsVenetiaBurneyStudentDustCounter( SDC) instrument is finding greater than anticipated levels of dust– the small frozen residues of crashes in between biggerKuiperBelt items( KBOs) and particles kicked up from KBOs being peppered by tiny dust impactors from beyond the planetary system.

The readings defy clinical designs that the KBO population and density of dust must begin to decrease a billion miles inside that range and add to a growing body of proof that recommends the external edge of the primaryKuiperBelt might extend billions of miles further than existing price quotes– or that there might even be a 2nd belt beyond the one we currently understand.

The results appear in the February 1 concern of the < period class ="glossaryLink" aria-describedby ="tt" data-cmtooltip ="<div class=glossaryItemTitle>Astrophysical Journal Letters</div><div class=glossaryItemBody>The Astrophysical Journal Letters (ApJL) is a peer-reviewed scientific journal that focuses on the rapid publication of short, significant letters and papers on all aspects of astronomy and astrophysics. It is one of the journals published by the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and is considered one of the most prestigious journals in the field.</div>" data-gt-translate-attributes=" [{"attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"}]" tabindex ="0" function ="link" >AstrophysicalJournalLetters(*************** )(******************** ).

Kuiper Belt Collision

Artist’s idea of an accident in between 2 items in the far-offKuiperBeltSuch crashes are a significant source of dust in the belt, in addition to particles kicked up fromKuiperBelt items being peppered by tiny dust impactors from beyond the planetary system.Credit:DanDurda, FIAAA


“NewHorizons is making the very first direct measurements of interplanetary dust far beyond< period class ="glossaryLink" aria-describedby ="tt" data-cmtooltip ="<div class=glossaryItemTitle>Neptune</div><div class=glossaryItemBody>Neptune is the farthest planet from the sun. In our solar system, it is the fourth-largest planet by size, and third densest. It is named after the Roman god of the sea.</div>" data-gt-translate-attributes="[{"attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"}]" tabindex ="0" function =”link” >Neptune and < period class ="glossaryLink" aria-describedby ="tt" data-cmtooltip ="<div class=glossaryItemTitle>Pluto</div><div class=glossaryItemBody>Pluto is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, a ring of bodies beyond Neptune. Discovered by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, it was originally considered the ninth planet from the Sun. Its status as a planet was questioned after other similar size objects were discovered in the Kuiper belt, and in 2006 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially reclassified it as a dwarf planet.</div>" data-gt-translate-attributes="[{"attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"}]" tabindex ="0" function ="link" >Pluto(*************** ), so every observation might result in a discovery,” stated AlexDoner, lead author of the paper and a physics college student at theUniversity ofColoradoBoulder who functions as SDC lead.“The idea that we might have detected an extended Kuiper Belt — with a whole new population of objects colliding and producing more dust – offers another clue in solving the mysteries of the solar system’s most distant regions.”

Designed and constructed by trainees at theLaboratory forAtmospheric andSpacePhysics( LASP) at theUniversity ofColoradoBoulder under the assistance of expert engineers, SDC has actually found tiny dust grains produced by crashes amongst asteroids, comets andKuiperBelt items the whole timeNewHorizons’ 5-billion-mile,18- year journey throughout our planetary system– which after launch in (******************************************************************************************* )consisted of historical flybys of Pluto in2015 and the KBOArrokoth in 2019.(*************************************************************************************************************************************** )very first science instrument on a NASA planetary objective to be created, constructed and“flown” by trainees, the SDC counts and determines the sizes of dust particles, producing info on the crash rates of such bodies in the external planetary system.

The most current, unexpected outcomes were assembled over 3 years asNewHorizons took a trip from45 to55 huge systems( AU) from theSun– with one AU being the range in betweenEarth and theSun, about93 million miles or140 million kilometers.

New Horizons Spacecraft

(******************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************** )conception of New HorizonsSpacecraft Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

These readings come as New Horizons researchers, utilizing observatories like the Japanese Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, have actually likewise found a number KBOs far beyond the conventional external edge of the KuiperBelt This external edge (where the density of items begins to decrease) was believed to be at about 50 AU, however brand-new proof recommends the belt might encompass 80 AU, or further.

As telescope observations continue, Doner stated, researchers are taking a look at other possible factors for the high SDC dust readings. One possibility, maybe less most likely, is radiation pressure and other aspects pressing dust developed in the inner Kuiper Belt out past 50 AU. New Horizons might likewise have actually come across shorter-lived ice particles that can not reach the inner parts of the planetary system and were not yet represented in the existing designs of the Kuiper Belt.

“These new scientific results from New Horizons may be the first time that any spacecraft has discovered a new population of bodies in our solar system,” stated Alan Stern, New Horizons primary private investigator from the Southwest Research Institute inBoulder “I can’t wait to see how much farther out these elevated Kuiper Belt dust levels go.”

New Horizons’ Continuing Journey

Now into its 2nd prolonged objective, New Horizons is anticipated to have enough propellant and power to run through the 2040 s, at ranges beyond 100 AU from theSun That far out, objective researchers state, the SDC might possibly even tape the spacecraft’s shift into an area where interstellar particles control the dust environment. With complementary telescopic observations of the Kuiper Belt from Earth, New Horizons, as the only spacecraft operating in and gathering brand-new info about the Kuiper Belt, has a special chance to read more about KBOs, dust sources and stretch of the belt, and interstellar dust and the dust disks around other stars.

Reference: “New Horizons Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter Observes Higher than Expected Fluxes Approaching 60 au” by Alex Doner, Mih ály Hor ányi, Fran Bagenal, Pontus Brandt, Will Grundy, Carey Lisse, Joel Parker, Andrew R. Poppe, Kelsi N. Singer, S. Alan Stern and Anne Verbiscer, 25 January 2024, The Astrophysical Journal Letters
DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ advertisement18 b0

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, constructed and runs the New Horizons spacecraft and handles the objective for NASA’s Science MissionDirectorate Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio and Boulder, Colorado, directs the objective through Principal Investigator Alan Stern and leads the science group, payload operations and experience science preparation. New Horizons becomes part of NASA’s New Frontiers program, handled by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.