NASA Exhibits the Most Distant Images Taken by a Spaceship
Feb 11 2018
The machine that took these photos was farther from Earth than any other functioning camera in existence. It's not just taking awesome photos on its path, but also carrying measurements of the plasma, dust and neutral-gas environment along the way, enabling astronomers to better understand the outskirts of our solar system.
"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.
In taking these images, New Horizon broke a record that had stood for almost three decades.
The record was previously held by NASA'sVoyager 1 when it captured the famous "Pale Blue Dot" image of Earth more than 27 years ago on Valentine's Day, 1990. Astronomer Carl Sagan, who pitched the photo concept, famously remarked: "Look again at that dot". Its four predecessors did not send back images because their cameras were shut down before they got that far away. But the spacecraft is not dead yet. "And now, we've been able to make images farther from Earth than any spacecraft in history".
Launched in 2006, New Horizons spacecraft is created to explore worlds at the our solar system. There, it changed the way we view the dwarf planet. 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.
It was most recently active between September and December 2017. When that happens, it will break the record again. 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.
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.
The Kuiper Belt is similar to the asteroid belt but is far larger: 20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive. Next to nothing is known about the micro-surfaces of objects like these, Porter said. It consists of many small celestial bodies from the time when the Solar system was formed.
The Kuiper belt is a vast expanse of rocks, ice clumps, comets and dwarf planets beyond Neptune.
Two hours later, LORRI looked at two objects in the Kuiper Belt, the ring of icy objects that New Horizons has been traveling through in the wake of its Pluto encounter.
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. Stern is the principal investigator of New Horizons mission.