The Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69 is the targeted flyby candidate for the New Horizons spacecraft's extended mission, with a close flyby on 1 January 2019. MU69 is thought to be a cold classical Kuiper belt object; it would be the first of these objects to be resolved and studied by a spacecraft. Based on an apparent V-magnitude of 27, the diameter of 2014 MU69 is thought to be between 20 50 km. New Horizons is on track to fly by it on 1-JAN-2019. SOFIA is well-suited to determine or better constrain the size, shape and albedo of this object by observing three bright occultations in 2017. These occultations will also search for dangerous rings (such as those around Chariklo) and provide improved astrometry supporting New Horizons. During the summer of 2017, MU69 will occult stars with V-magnitudes of 15.5, 15.6 and 13.1 on June 3, July 10 and July 17 respectively. Observations with the FPI+ and HIPO photometers at 20 Hz will resolve occultation chord lengths at the few 100-m level, with signal-to-noise ratios of 111.9 and 19.2 per timestep for the 13.1 and 15.5-magnitude stars, respectively. 2014 MU69 would be the smallest known member of the KBO population with a well-known size; as such, its albedo (and the inferred presence or lack of surface frosts) would be a key data point with respect to its impact and accretion history. Knowing the size and albedo 18 months before the New Horizons encounter will be a critical aid in optimizing the flyby observing sequences as well as enabling more precise targeting of the encounter by refining MU69's astrometry and orbit solution. Further, finding rings would constitute an early detection of a significant hazard to the spacecraft.
- Pub Date:
- SOFIA 05_0168