NASA's New Horizons snaps farthest images by any spacecraft

Delia Watkins
February 11, 2018

The images for "Pale Blue Dot" - part of a composite - were taken 3.75 billion miles (6.06 billion kilometres ) away. Then, the spacecraft broke its own record again two hours later, when it took photos of two objects in the Kuiper Belt, the large cloud of icy objects at the edge of the Solar System that New Horizons is now traversing.

Compare that achievement to Voyager 1, which was 3.75 billion miles (6.06 billion kilometers) from Earth when it took the famous "Pale Blue Dot" image of our home world on February 14, 1990.

"New Horizons has always been a mission of firsts - first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched". The "Wishing Well" view and those two false-color images, showing the objects known as 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85, are what gave LORRI its record as the farthest-out camera. It's headed toward an even closer encounter with another icy world, 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometres ) beyond Pluto, on January 1, 2019. The main target of New Horizons was to make a close flyby of Jupiter and provide data about the gas giant's atmosphere, magnetosphere, and the moons.

New Horizons is the fifth spacecraft to go beyond the outer planets of our solar systems, so is in a prime position to break a few records. The imager is one of seven instruments aboard the New Horizons spacecraft that reached Pluto in 2015. Then New Horizons started its journey towards Pluto, the dwarf planet.

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New Horizons is an interplanetary space craft that was launched under NASA's New Frontiers Program in 2006 with the primary mission to perform a study on the Pluto system and Kuiper Belt objects.

New Horizons is not as far from Earth as Voyager 1, but this spacecraft is also on track to leave the solar system.

When you're traveling through 700,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers) of space each day, nothing stands still. 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. Another picture taken by LORRI consists of two objects in the Kuiper belt. If a craft were launched today it would take a decade to travel as far as New Horizons has, and there are no immediate plans to follow in its path. Specifically, New Horizons is targeting 2014 MU69, a mysterious object (or pair of two objects) which Alan Stern, mission principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), has called "provocative" and a "scientific bonanza".

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