WASHINGTON, June 17 (UPI) -- Got a new mission for NASA's New Horizons probe? Take a number and get in line. With its much anticipated flyby of Pluto still a year off, NASA is already trying to decide where to send the probe next.
Hubble Telescope is doing its part to keep the spacecraft busy, currently searching for another faraway object that New Horizons might visit post-Pluto.
The New Horizons probe was launched in 2006 and is currently hurdling through space towards the icy vacuum of the outer Solar System. Once there, it will begin observing Pluto and the other frigid bodies that populate the mysterious Kuiper Belt, which circles the sun just beyond Neptune's orbit.
The probe's trajectory, if it can avoid Pluto's moons and other cosmic debris, currently sends the craft beyond the Kuiper Belt. But NASA scientists currently don't know if any other objects in the neighborhood to tell New Horizons to train its focus on.
That's where Hubble comes in.
The telescope will scan the area of the sky near the constellation Sagittarius, looking for objects that register a certain brightness -- an indicator of size. If it picks up anything worth noting, Hubble will hone its gaze and NASA scientists will consider whether the object is worth visiting or not.
"I am pleased that our science peer-review process arrived at a consensus as to how to effectively use Hubble's unique capabilities to support the science goals of the New Horizons mission," said Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, the group that operates Hubble.
"The planned search for a suitable target for New Horizons further demonstrates how Hubble is effectively being used to support humankind's initial reconnaissance of the solar system," Mountain added.