Published: Thu, February 15, 2018
Research | By Derrick Holloway

NASA breaks record for pictures taken farthest from Earth

NASA breaks record for pictures taken farthest from Earth

In 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft turned its camera toward Earth and took a famous photo called "The Pale Blue Dot" from 3.75 billion miles away.

False-color images of KBOs 2012 HZ84 (left) and 2012 HE85, taken by LORRI, are the farthest from Earth ever captured by a spacecraft. Besides analyzing MU69, New Horizons will also make observations of a dozen other objects including dwarf planets and "Centaurs", or objects with unstable orbits that float around in the Kuiper Belt.

New Horizons originally launched way back in early 2006, and it the spacecraft has made close passes of a number of planets during its more than a decade of cruising through our Solar System.

For the two record-breaking Kuiper Belt object images, it took about 4 hours to transmit each image and 6 hours for the data to travel to Earth, Alan Stern, the principal investigator on the New Horizons mission, told Live Science. Just 2 hours before, the spacecraft had officially claimed the title of spaciest photographer by capturing a camera-calibration shot of a far-off star cluster known as the Wishing Well. These images, which have since been released to the public, have set the new record for the most distant images ever taken.

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Voyager 1's record remained unchallenged for almost three decades after NASA turned off its cameras shortly after taking the legendary shot.

In December - while 3.79 billion miles (6.12 billion kilometres) from Earth - the New Horizons spacecraft snapped a picture of a star cluster.

Since that time, New Horizons has carried on to the Kuiper Belt for the sake of conducting more historic encounters.

NASA has a whole lot of fancy image-gathering hardware on Earth and in space, and we've seen countless of stunning snapshots taken from here on Earth as well as nearby planets like Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. After the flight in 2015, it was decided in the period from 2016 to 2021 to explore the Kuiper belt, located at a distance of 30-55 astronomical units from the Sun and containing the body, remaining after the formation of the Solar system.

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Were you impressed by New Horizons' achievement?

"Those are the farthest out images ever taken", says Dr. Andy Cheng, with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel.

New Horizons is sleeping now, resting up for its next big adventure. It will be the farthest planetary encounter in history.

The kicker? That record is likely to be broken again within a matter of months.

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