New Horizons probe captures images at record distance from Earth

This December 2017 false-color image made available by NASA in February 2018 shows KBO 2012 HZ84. This image is for now one of the farthest

For a couple of hours, this New Horizons image of the so-called Wishing Well star cluster, snapped on December 5, 2017, was the farthest image ever captured by a spacecraft.

The record-breaking photo - the furthest image from earth ever taken - was captured by the New Horizons spacecraft when it flew past Pluto in July 2015. But they're arguably among the most incredible photographic images ever.

Anyone who's passionate about astronomy and outer space knows that few things can compare to the grandeur and beauty of deep space photography, and on that front, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is doing great work. After traveling another billion kilometers into the outer solar system, it took photos of Kuiper Belt Object 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85.

However, the spacecraft surpassed its own record in only two hours. The Kuiper Belt is a disc-shaped expanse past the orbit of Neptune, about 2.7 billion to 9.3 billion miles (4.4 billion to 14.9 billion km) from the sun, that contains thousands of icy objects, comets and dwarf planets.

At a distance of 3.79 billion miles from Earth, New Horizons recorded a picture of a star cluster this past December. The previous record holder for the farthest picture was NASA's Voyager 1, which shot the famous "Pale Blue Dot" image of Earth on February.

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Using its built-in Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, it snapped an image of an open cluster named the "Wishing Well" last December 5 from a distance of 6.12 billion kilometers. This made Voyager 1's record unmatched for almost three decades.

New Horizons recorded a picture of a star cluster taken from almost 4 billion miles away, breaking the previous record. Given that the New Horizons is still making its way through the solar system, it's entirely possible there will be more incredibly distant images in the weeks and months to come.

They will also use LORRI to search the vicinity of MU69 for any objects that could potentially be hazardous to the spacecraft, such as moons, rings, and other debris. To get there, New Horizons is trucking: It travels more than 700,000 miles (1.1 million km) a day. Data is stored in a solid-state recorder (the only moving parts in these flash memory devices are the electrons) on New Horizons and is then transmitted via radio waves.

"New Horizons has always been a mission of firsts-first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched", said Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. Flight controllers at a Johns Hopkins University lab in Laurel, Maryland, will awaken the spacecraft in June and start getting it ready for the flyby.

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