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NASA's New Horizons snaps farthest images by any spacecraft

14 February 2018

According to reports, the craft achieved the major milestone while drifting farther and farther through the outer boundaries of the solar system late past year.

"New Horizons has always 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, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, notes in a statement.

Using Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) technology, New Horizons was able to photograph several objects in the Kuiper Belt, as well as some dwarf planets.

The picture shown above, a false-colour image of a Kuiper Belt object with the designation 2012 HZ84, is the most distant photo from Earth ever taken by a spacecraft.

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That's because they were taken from the farthest point from planet Earth of any images ever captured, snapped by a spacecraft just over 3.79 billion miles (6.12 billion kilometers) from its home planet.

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.

For now, though, New Horizons is now enjoying some well-deserved hibernation as it hurtles away from us at a rate of roughly 700,000 miles a day. These images once again broke the record for being the most distant images taken from Earth (again), but also set a new record for the closest-ever images ever taken of KBOs.

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

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New Horizons is the first NASA spacecraft to fly by Pluto and the fifth to speed beyond the outer planets.

On Earth, NASA's Deep Space Network antenna dishes catch the faint signals coming from New Horizons and reassemble the raw data into a usable form. The mission will put New Horizons one billion miles beyond the Pluto system, which it explored back in 2015.

The piano-sized probe then turned to the Kuiper Belt. Two Pioneer probes-Pioneer 10 and 11-have also traveled farther away than New Horizons, but NASA lost contact with them years ago. NASA said the spacecraft is expected to observe at least two-dozen other KBOs, dwarf planets and "Centaurs", former KBOs in unstable orbits that cross the orbits of the giant planets.

NASA program director Alan Stern said: "New Horizons has always been a first-time mission, the first to explore Pluto, the first to explore the Camping Zone and the fastest spacecraft ever launched".

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NASA's New Horizons snaps farthest images by any spacecraft