The New Horizons spacecraft was recently redirected to encounter the Transneptunian Object (TNO) 2014 MU69 on 1 January 2019. In order to optimally plan the fly-by sequencing, we must learn as much about this object in advance of the encounter as possible. In particular, it is critical that we determine, to the best of our ability, if the object is binary (as is the case for 20% of cold classical TNOs in this size range), the rotation period and shape of the body. All of these parameters influence the encounter design and timing. Existing and proposed HST astrometric datasets constrain its diameter (21-41 km for an albedo of 0.15-0.04) and orbit, and suggest a rotational lightcurve amplitude of >0.3 mags, but cannot determine the rotation period or lightcurve shape. To that end we propose to use 24 HST orbits over 4 days to measure the lightcurve amplitude of 2014 MU69, and constrain its rotation period to better than 5%. 2014 MU69's orbit identifies it as very typical member of the cold classical TNO population. This makes it an ideal target for our spacecraft mission because close-up observations obtained of 2014 MU69 can be extrapolated to understand the cold classical population as a whole, which is the most primitive and least disturbed part of the Kuiper Belt.
- Pub Date:
- October 2016