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3.8 billion miles! New Horizons spacecraft sends pictures from farthest vantage point
March 23 2018, 01:28 | Guillermo Bowen
NASA Spacecraft Takes Photo From 3.79 Billion Miles
Just two hours before taking the record-breaking images of the Kuiper Belt objects, it took an image of a star cluster called the "Wishing Well," which is now the second-farthest image from Earth ever taken. "And now we've been able to make images farther from Earth than any spacecraft in history", mission principal investigator Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, said today in a news release.
About two hours later, New Horizons later broke the record again with images of Kuiper Belt objects 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85. 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.
"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. The distance? Over 6.1 billion kilometers.
New Horizons willI become the first to do a fly-by of one of the many mysterious Kuiper Belt objects when it will come in close range of "Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69" shortly after midnight on January 1, 2019. In February 1990, Voyager 1 was exiting our solar system when it snapped the iconic "Pale Blue Dot" photo - a picture of Earth from over 6.06 billion kilometers away. During its voyage to the outer reaches of the solar system, the spacecraft usually stays in hibernation mode to conserve energy. Then New Horizons started its journey towards Pluto, the dwarf planet. During its travels, New Horizons alternates between periods of activity and dormancy to conserve fuel. New Horizons' encounter with Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, which orbits a billion miles beyond Pluto, will offer the first close-up look at such a pristine building block of the solar system - and will be performed in a region of deep space that was practically unknown just a generation ago.
The Kuiper belt object flyby is "not almost as flashy as Pluto", Porter said, but "it's a really unique observation". It extends in a disc around our sun, beyond the orbit of Neptune.
With diameters of a hundred kilometers or so, the two Kuiper belt objects are not large enough to classify as dwarf planets. "This post-Pluto mission is a complete and comprehensive exploration of the Kuiper Belt", said Alice Bowman, New Horizons mission operations manager, also from APL.
New Horizons is reportedly healthy and everything is functioning as planned.
New Horizons is now in hibernation until June 4. When that happens, it will break the record again.