NASA's New Horizons snaps farthest images by any spacecraft

NASA's New Horizons snaps farthest images by any spacecraft

NASA's New Horizons snaps farthest images by any spacecraft

The subjects include the "Wishing Well" star cluster as well as two large objects in the Kuiper Belt which have never been observed from such a distance before.

The routine calibration frame of the "Wishing Well" galactic open star cluster on December 5 was taken when New Horizons was 6.12 billion km from Earth - making it, for a time, the farthest image ever made from Earth, NASA said. They're also the closest-ever images of Kuiper Belt objects. These December 2017 false-color images of KBOs 2012 HZ84 (left) and 2012 HE85 are, for now, the farthest from Earth ever captured by a spacecraft.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has set a new record by capturing the farthest images from Earth by a spacecraft, surpassing the Voyager 1's record of capturing an image when it was 6.06 billion km away from Earth. A composite of 60 images, that image became known as the "Pale Blue Dot," made more famous by Carl Sagan's description of Earth as "a mote of dust suspended on a sunbeam".

For now, though, New Horizons is now enjoying some well-deserved hibernation as it hurtles away from us at a rate of roughly 700,000 miles a day.

New Horizons is just the fifth spacecraft that goes through the heights of our solar system and opens itself into the real huge universe.

MU69 will be the most distant world ever explored.

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"Mission scientists study the images to determine the objects' shapes and surface properties, and to check for moons and rings", the space agency says.

New Horizons is sleeping now, resting up for its next big adventure. "The spacecraft also is making almost continuous measurements of the plasma, dust and neutral-gas environment along its path".

The targeted object is known as 2014 MU69; the spacecraft will pass within 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometres).

For the two record-breaking Kuiper Belt object images, it took about 4 hours to transmit each image and 6 hours for the data to travel to Earth, Alan Stern, the principal investigator on the New Horizons mission, told Live Science. This event, which will happen on January 1st, 2019, will be the farthest planetary encounter in history. However, that might not be the last we hear from New Horizons, as its power source could continue to provide life into 2026 and beyond.

"The Voyagers and Pioneers flew through the Kuiper Belt at a time when we didn't know this region existed", says Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, in another press release. NASA said the spacecraft is expected to observe at least two-dozen other KBOs, dwarf planets and "Centaurs", former KBOs in unstable orbits that cross the orbits of the giant planets.

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