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NASA New Horizons spacecraft sends back Kuiper Belt images


NASA New Horizons spacecraft Kuiper Belt images break pale blue dot record
These
December 2017 false-color images of KBOs 2012 HZ84 (left) and
2012 HE85 are, for now, the farthest from Earth ever captured by
a spacecraft. They’re also the closest-ever images of Kuiper Belt
objects.

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

  • Until recently, the image captured farthest from Earth
    was the “pale blue dot” photo that the Voyager 1 spacecraft
    snapped before shutting off its cameras in 1990.
  • Now, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has broken that
    record with several new photos.
  • New Horizons is exploring the Kuiper Belt, a region of
    small icy worlds like Pluto.

When you look at Earth from far enough away, all of us — our
drama, political squabbling, and day-to-day worries — appear to
be part of a speck of dusk, a pale blue dot floating in a vast
cosmos of space.


voyager pale blue dot
The “pale blue
dot.”

NASA

That’s the gift of perspective that NASA’s
Voyager 1 spacecraft
gave us when it sent its iconic
pale
blue dot
” photo. The image, snapped on February 14, 1990, was
the last one Voyager shot on its way out of our solar
system. 

Until now, the photo was taken farther away from Earth than any
image ever, a record that stood for more than 27 years.

But
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft
has now broken that record,
sending back several photos from the Kuiper Belt, a region of the
outer Solar System beyond Neptune. New Horizons is exploring this
region and the Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) found there in an
effort to better understand these far-away worlds and the
journeys they’re making through the cosmos. These objects include
dwarf planets like Pluto in far-out orbits of the sun and former
KBOs in unstable orbits known as “Centaurs”. NASA scientists are
also using the New Horizons craft to analyze plasma, dust, and
gas in the region.


wishing well star cluster new horizons nasa
For
a short time, this New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager
(LORRI) frame of the “Wishing Well” star cluster, taken Dec. 5,
2017, was the farthest image ever made by a spacecraft, breaking
a 27-year record set by Voyager 1.

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

New Horizons first broke Voyager’s photo-distance record on
December 5, 2017, with an image of the “Wishing Well” star
cluster, which it shot as part of a routine calibration process
when it was 3.79 billion miles from Earth. In astronomical units
(AUs) — a measurement of the average distance from the center of
the Earth to the center of the Sun — it was 40.9 AUs
away. The pale blue dot image, by comparison, was captured
40 AUs from Earth.

Several hours after that first image, New Horizons broke its own
record with the two images at the top of this story. Each of
those show a Kuiper Belt object: The one on the left is known as
2012 HZ84, and on the right is 2012 HE85.

These new record-setting images are also the closest-ever images
taken of KBOs.

New Horizons is now “hibernating” to save power in between
actions on its journey. The next time scientists plan to bring it
back online will be June 4, when the spacecraft will start
preparing for a close encounter with a KBO named 2014 MU69 that’s
expected to happen on Jan. 1, 2019. The spacecraft travels more
than 700,000 miles of space every day.

“New Horizons has long been a mission of firsts — first to
explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest
spacecraft ever launched,” New Horizons Principal Investigator
Alan Stern said,
according to NASA
. “And now, we’ve been able to make images
farther from Earth than any spacecraft in history.”


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