Monday, 23 July, 2018

3.8 billion miles! New Horizons spacecraft sends pictures from farthest vantage point

Wishing Well star cluster This image taken on Dec. 5 2017 shows the “Wishing Well” star cluster
Guillermo Lane | 10 February, 2018, 05:29

The previous record - not set on December 9, 2017 - came from the beloved Voyager 1 back in February 1990 with its "Pale Blue Dot" image of Earth from 3.75 billion miles from home. That picture, the brainchild of the late physicist Carl Sagan, looked back at Earth from a distance of 3.75 billion miles.

Today NASA released a set of images captured by New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager on December 5 of previous year, when the piano-sized probe was 3.79 billion miles from Earth. There are only four spacecraft that have ever traveled that far from home: Voyager 1 and 2, and Pioneer 10 and 11.

That picture was part of a composite of 60 images looking back at the solar system, on February 14, 1990, when Voyager was 3.75 billion miles from Earth.

These false-color images of two Kuiper Belt objects, 2012 HZ84 (left) and 2012 HE85 (right), helped give New Horizons' LORRI instrument the title of farthest-out working camera.

Shots of these two icy objects were captured by NASA's New Horizons space probe.

The image at the top of the page is of several Kuiper Belt objects including some far-out dwarf planets and Centaurs, the space agency reports.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has returned some magnificent images of the Solar System's outer reaches around Pluto, its primary target.

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Most of the time, New Horizons is sleeping - hibernating, to save energy.

"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.

New Horizons, in contrast, is just getting started. Voyager can no longer send back postcards - its camera was shut down. It has the goal of observing "at least two-dozen" more Kuiper Belt objects. The images of 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85 provide vital context to the understudied bodies at the solar system's bleeding edge.

For now, the Hubble telescope, which orbits Earth, can image most Kuiper belt objects in greater detail than New Horizon's eight-inch telescope, Porter said.

The U.S. space agency says the spacecraft is now healthy and in hibernation, as the team behind it at Johns Hopkins plan to wake it up on June 4 of this year to prepare for its impending encounter with MU69.

New Horizons is reportedly healthy and everything is functioning as planned.

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