Red isn’t a common color outside of planets in our solar system. Sure, you’ve got Mars, and surprising patches of color on Pluto among other mysteries, but by and large, space is greyscale. So that makes MU69, a red asteroid in the Kuiper Belt, a subject of serious fascination among scientists.
MU69 is red thanks to tholins. Extremely rare on Earth, tholins are created by exposing organic molecules like methane and ethane to ultraviolet solar radiation. They’re also potentially a leading candidate as the “seed” life on Earth formed around, as a tholin-rich asteroid might have slammed into the Earth early in its history, stirring up the chemical soup needed to create life.
There are, of course, a lot of questions: Where did this asteroid come from? Where did it collect these organic molecules? What’s happening on the surface of this asteroid? And, then there’s the big question: Could we potentially guide MU69 into an Earth-like planet and see what happens? But first we have to figure out what it is, something New Horizons will be doing relatively soon. We say “relatively” because it’ll be arriving on New Year’s Day 2019. Hey, at least NASA’s scientists can plan ahead to be sober that morning, right?