Published: Sun, February 11, 2018
Sci-tech | By Spencer Schmidt

NASA'S New Horizons probe snaps farthest image from Earth

NASA'S New Horizons probe snaps farthest image from Earth

We'll know for sure when New Horizons gets close, and thankfully its cameras will stay powered on for a while.

FILE - This image made available by NASA on Friday, July 24, 2015 shows a combination of images captured by the New Horizons spacecraft with enhanced colors to show differences in the composition and texture of Pluto's surface. But they're arguably among the most unbelievable photographic images ever.

NASA said in a statement that New Horizons snapped a picture of a group of stars known as the "Wishing Well" when the spacecraft was about 3.79 billion miles (6.12 billion kilometers) from Earth. New Horizons broke its own record in the following days, photographing Kuiper belt objects 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85.

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

According to the principal investigator of the mission, Alan Stern, New Horizons has been a first-run operation: first exploring Pluto is also the first to track the Kuiper Belt, and-in addition-the fastest spacecraft ever launched. Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, pointed out that New Horizons' vantage point from about 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) from MU69 will allow it spot details about the size of a basketball court.

The last time they did this was 5 December, when New Horizons took a routine calibration image of a cluster of stars, breaking a record for the most distant photograph ever taken. Now, it's zipping along at more than 700,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers) each day - moving farther and farther out into our solar system. This belt is home to three officially recognized dwarf planets- Pluto, Haumea and Makemake.

The Kuiper belt object flyby is "not almost as flashy as Pluto", Porter said, but "it's a really unique observation". New Horizons is one of only five shuttles which has managed to reach the escape velocity required to exit the solar system. 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. That was followed up with the shots of the Kuiper Belt two hours later.

"That tells us this object is going to have a lot of surprises in store for New Horizons", said Marc Buie, the New Horizons science team member from SwRI who led the observation campaign.

It wasn't until this past December when Voyager 1's record was finally broken. New Horizons began its Kuiper Belt mission a year ago.

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