Recently, several of the Kuiper Belt Objects our team has discovered while searching for New Horizons post-Pluto flyby candidates have been submitted to the Minor Planet Center (the organization responsible for designating minor bodies in the solar system) and their orbital information is now in the public domain. All of these objects were included in the New Horizons Kuiper Belt fly-through animation from a few months back, and I will highlight them here. Click through to the Vimeo page to see animation details.
The first object we submitted, 2011 HM102, is the trailing Neptune Trojan that I discussed in a previous blog post. It is visible as the first object New Horizons flies by in the animation, with its closest approach in late 2013. As mentioned in the previous post, the recovery of this object was assisted by the citizen scientists of Ice Hunters / Ice Investigators. The list of those citizen scientists who assisted can be found here.
Three of the submitted objects, 2011 JW31, 2011 JY31, and 2011 HZ102 are all clustered together. They are part of the "cold classical Kuiper Belt" - a thin, relatively densely-populated sub-disk of the Kuiper Belt. The sharp inner edge of this part of the Kuiper Belt is near 42 AU, and you can see it in the animation as a sudden surge of flybys in 2018. 2011 JW31, 2011 JY31, and 2011 HZ102 all fly by the spacecraft in 2018, and all pass within 0.2 AU. At this distance they will be valuable long-range science targets.
Finally, our latest submission is 2011 JX31. It is also a relatively close flyby candidate, with a minimum flyby distance of about 0.4 AU. Like the Neptune Trojan 2011 HM102, its recovery was also assisted by the Ice Hunters / Ice Investigators. The list of those citizen scientists who assisted can be found here. At present it looks like this object also belongs to the cold classical Kuiper Belt, but it encounters the spacecraft later than the other three, around mid-2020.
We have many more objects whose orbits we are polishing up for public release, and more telescope time coming up this year - so there will be more discoveries soon!