This image is, for now, one of the farthest pictures from Earth ever captured by a spacecraft.
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft captured these images at a distance of 3.79 billion miles from Earth - the farthest from our planet an image has ever been made. They were the last photographs the probe took before its cameras were shut down.
"New Horizons has always been a mission of firsts - first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched", Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, released Thursday. In a span of just a few hours on December 5, the craft trained its camera first on the glittering "Wishing Well" star cluster (seen below) and then on two objects in the Kuiper Belt (seen above), the huge band of rocks and dwarf planets that rings the outer fringes of our solar system.
With its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, New Horizons has observed several Kuiper Belt objects and dwarf planets at unique phase angles, as well as centaurs at extremely high phase angles to search for forward-scattering rings or dust. The Kuiper Belt is a disc-shaped expanse past the orbit of Neptune, about 2.7 billion to 9.3 billion miles (4.4 billion to 14.9 billion km) from the sun, that contains thousands of icy objects, comets and dwarf planets.
NASA has released a photograph taken 6.1 billion kilometres away from Earth.
That image was made at a vantage point of 3.75 billion miles from Earth. In 1990, the iconic probe captured a long-distance image of Earth, widely known as the "Pale Blue Dot" photo. Since Voyager 1's cameras were turned off shortly after that shot was taken, the record has stood for the past 27 years.
New Horizon's principal investigator Alan Stern said in the statement that the unmanned, piano-sized probe, launched in 2006, "has been a mission of firsts - first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched".
Just two hours after breaking the almost three-decade-old record, New Horizons broke its own record, photographing two small KBOs, 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85 from an even more distant location. To get there, New Horizons is trucking: It travels more than 700,000 miles (1.1 million km) a day.
"New Horizons has always been a mission of firsts - first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched", says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Flight controllers at a Johns Hopkins University lab in Laurel, Maryland, will awaken the spacecraft in June and start getting it ready for the flyby. So long as the mission goes according to plan, New Horizons could hold on to its lead for a long time.
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