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After the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto, in 2015, it still had some gas in the tank and some tread on the tires. Mission scientists wanted to take advantage of that by flying past another object in the outer solar system. But they didn’t know where to send it — there was no roadmap to other destinations.

They solved that problem 10 years ago today. Using Hubble Space Telescope, they discovered a new body about four billion miles from the Sun. Eventually, it was named Arrokoth — a Powhatan name for “sky” or “cloud.”

New Horizons flew just 2200 miles from Arrokoth in early 2019. It’s the most distant object ever seen from close range.

Arrokoth is about 22 miles long. It consists of two “lobes” — one a few miles wider than the other. That makes the object look like a smushed snowman, or a rubber duck without a bill. The two lobes probably began as separate objects, but they gently mashed together.

A recent study found that the bigger lobe probably was formed from several smaller bodies — chunks of ice and rock a few miles across that all mashed together.

New Horizons found water ice, methanol, and organic compounds on the surface of Arrokoth. Radiation from the Sun and beyond has zapped the organic molecules, turning them red. Scientists are still studying the observations to learn more about Arrokoth — a distant encounter on a long road trip.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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