NASA'S New Horizons probe snaps farthest image from Earth

NASA Probe Captures Farthest Images Taken Away From Earth

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft just took the farthest-ever images from Earth, breaking an earlier record set by Voyager 1's "Pale Blue Dot" image taken nearly exactly 28 years ago. On 5 December, 2017, the spacecraft, which covers over one million kilometres of space per day, was 6.12 billion kilometres from Earth, when it captured an image of the "Wishing Well" open star cluster - making it the "farthest image ever made from Earth". For comparison, Voyager 1 was 3.75 billion miles from Earth when it captured the "Pale Blue Dot" image.

Voyager's cameras were turned off shortly afterward and are no longer being used, even though the probe continues to zoom through the solar system's fringe at a distance of 13.2 billion miles. It finished its primary mission with the Pluto flyby in 2015 and is now on an extended mission to explore the Kuiper Belt, helping the USA to complete its reconnaissance of our solar system.

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So how does New Horizons send back images, even blurry ones, through all that space?

New Horizons is headed toward a KBO dubbed 2014 MU69, one of more than 20 far-off chunks of rock and ice NASA hopes to observe during the spacecraft's mission. 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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Alan Stern, the mission's principal investigator, said: "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, the mission's principal investigator. It's not just taking awesome photos on its path, but also carrying measurements of the plasma, dust and neutral-gas environment along the way, enabling astronomers to better understand the outskirts of our solar system. Its latest snaps may not be its most spectacular, but are pioneering in their own way as the farthest images ever snapped away from the Earth.

The New Horizons spacecraft is healthy and is now in hibernation. The transmission rate for New Horizons is only about 2 kilobits per second. During its voyage to the outer reaches of the solar system, the spacecraft usually stays in hibernation mode to conserve energy.

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The spacecraft became the first to fly over Pluto in 2015, and the first to explore the Kuiper Belt. It performed an unprecedented flyby study of the Pluto system in 2015, offering a dramatic view of the dwarf planet and its satellites. For now, New Horizons won't be sending home any snapshots.

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