New Horizons discover ‘Icebergs floating’ on rolling sea in Pluto

NASA’s New Horizon’s interplanetary probe, has observed another icy object located in the outer region of the Solar System.

This is its first major discovery by the probe since its close encounter with Pluto, last July. The icy body is known as 1994 JR1 and orbits around 32 astronomical units away from the sun ( the distance between the Earth and the Sun is called one astronomical unit). This observation can end the theory that JR1 may be Pluto’s satellite.

Porter, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, Colorado said,”Combining the November 2015 and April 2016 observations allows us to pinpoint the location of JR1 to within 1,000 kilometers (about 600 miles), far better than any small [Kuiper Belt object],”

These observations could serve as a tryout for 20 other possible objects. The analysis of data from last year’s encounter with Pluto has given scientists insights into the planet’s tenuous atmosphere.

About four hours after New Horizons made its approach to Pluto, on July 14, 2015, the spacecraft’s UV spectrometer instrument noticed two stars moving behind Pluto and its atmosphere.

Astronomers call this a ‘stellar occultation’.

1994 JR1’s stellar occultations were also performed using light from the sun. This allowed the probe to confirm its atmospheric temperature and structure, detect the presence of various gases such as nitrogen, methane and acetylene and measure the escape rate of nitrogen molecules from the atmosphere.

New Horizons was launched in January, 2006, with the goal of understanding the formation of the Pluto system, and the Kuiper belt along with the transformation of the early solar system.

The last two years have proven to be the harbinger of biggest milestones in this mission. The mission is expected to end in 2026 when the Heliosphere data collection is over.