NASA has released a record-breaking photograph taken by the New Horizons spacecraft when it was 3.79 billion miles away from the Earth. The machine that took these photos was farther from Earth than any other functioning camera in existence.
The false-colour images released by NASA are the farthest from Earth ever captured by a spacecraft, and are also the closest-ever images of Kuiper Belt objects.
New Horizons is only the fifth man-made spacecraft to ever travel beyond the outer planets, and many of its activities are setting distance records, according to NASA.
The Pale Blue Dot: Earth is the pinprick of white in the middle of the orange band of scattered sunlight.
"New Horizons has always been a mission of firsts - first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched", said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. New Horizon's next target is a flyby through the Kuiper belt; hence, the latest images give an overview of what new destination of New Horizons.
In taking these images, New Horizon broke a record that had stood for almost three decades.
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The record was previously held by NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft, which snapped the image data for the famous "Pale Blue Dot" image on February 14, 1990. That's here. That's home. The photo surpassed the "Pale Blue Dot" images of Earth taken in 1990 by NASA's Voyager 1. But the spacecraft is not dead yet.
"And now, we've been able to make images farther from Earth than any spacecraft in history", Stern said.
Outlining the dwarf planet's geology and composition, along with details about the unexpected haze in the planet's atmosphere and its interaction with the solar winds, New Horizons has revolutionized scientists' and the world's understanding of Pluto. Then New Horizons started its journey towards Pluto, the dwarf planet. About two hours later, New Horizons later broke the record again. New Horizons broke its own record in the following days, photographing Kuiper belt objects 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85.
This image, taken on December 5, 2017, shows the "Wishing Well" star cluster. Next to nothing is known about the micro-surfaces of objects like these, Porter said. In the meantime, we'll always have 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85.
After the fly-by, the spacecraft continued into the Kuiper Belt - similar to the asteroid belt but further out from the Sun and composed of dwarf planets and frozen ice, rather than rocky bodies. They're also the closest-ever images of Kuiper Belt objects.
Most of the time, New Horizons is sleeping - hibernating, to save energy.