On Jan. 19, 2006, NASA launched New Horizons to investigate the outer edges of our solar system. Some 2300 days later, the craft is just halfway to Pluto, on approach for a flight past Pluto and its moons in July 2015.
Once it is done it’s Pluto-Charon work, New Horizons may be retargeted for an encounter with a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO). Discovered in 1992, the Kuiper Belt is a massive region of rocks, ices, and metals that stretches from the orbit of Neptune to an area some 50 AU beyond the Sun.
Your job, should you join the good folks over at Ice Investigators by Cosmoquest, is to look over some of the many thousands of images we have of the region to find a good target for a New Horizons flyby. Ideally, the target will be at least 30 miles (about 50 kilometers) across, and be suitable for taking high resolution images, doing infrared spectroscopy and four-color maps, and looking for an atmosphere and moons.
You can get started with the Ice Investigators project by logging in and marking KBOs on the images provided; you’ll be looking for white, clearly defined blobs against a background of stars, cosmic rays, transients, and asteroids.
Cosmoquest is also responsible for the Moon Mappers project discussed in a previous article.