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The New Horizons Spacecraft is scheduled to whiz by Pluto around 2015, and my understanding is that it is going to do exactly that — whiz by it.

Where will it go after that? Or what else can it do once that mission is completed?

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Vaguely related: Where are the Voyagers going?, and I would offer the same comment I used there. –  dmckee Mar 8 '12 at 17:05
    
@dmckee I read that, and maybe that is the ultimate answer, but I couldn't tell if New Horizons had any other immediate plans after Pluto. –  LarsTech Mar 8 '12 at 17:16
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Spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace! –  Keith Thompson Mar 8 '12 at 19:09
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1 Answer 1

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There are plans for encounters with Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) after it passes Pluto. (Pluto itself is a KBO.)

Quoting the New Horizons Mission Timeline:

Plans for an extended mission include one to two encounters of Kuiper Belt Objects, ranging from about 25 to 55 miles (40 to 90 kilometers) in diameter. New Horizons would acquire the same data it collected at Pluto - where applicable - and follow a timeline similar to the Pluo encounter:

  • Closest Approach - 4 weeks: object observations
  • Closest Approach + 2 weeks: post-encounter studies
  • Closest Approach + 2 months: all data returned to Earth

The "one to two" is a limitation imposed by the amount of available fuel.

The tricky part (well, one tricky part) is finding KBOs that New Horizons can visit.

And the project is asking for help from the public to find suitable KBOs. It turns out that the human eye is better than computers at identifying potential KBOs in photographs. You can help by visiting http://www.icehunters.org/.

How cool is that?

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I'd add that the reason why where it goes after Pluto wasn't defined in advance was because doing a search for suitable candidates gets significantly easier with time. Both in that newer telescopes provide better data to search for KBOs, and because with less time for the KBOs to move before NH can reach them the area to be searched gets smaller. –  Dan Neely Mar 9 '12 at 14:04
    
+1 for the interesting answer! –  cept0 Mar 12 '12 at 0:25
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