"New Horizons has always been a mission of firsts - first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched", says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Well, New Horizons has outdone itself again, setting a record for the farthest photos ever taken from Earth. 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.
During its extended mission in the Kuiper Belt, which began in 2017, New Horizons is aiming 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.
New Horizons has observed several Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) and dwarf planets at unique phase angles, as well as Centaurs at extremely high phase angles to search for forward-scattering rings or dust. Voyager 1's achievement lasted as long as it did because the mission crew shut off the camera shortly after capturing the Pale Blue Dot image.
In fact, New Horizons broke the record twice in quick succession, first snapping a shot of a group of distant stars called the Wishing Well, around 1,300 light-years away from our planet.
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Voyager 1 captured these images at a distance of 3.75 billion miles (6.06 billion km) from Earth.
That image was made at a vantage point of 3.75 billion miles from Earth.
"Mission scientists study the images to determine the objects' shapes and surface properties, and to check for moons and rings", the space agency says.
New Horizons is speeding toward its second target, 2014 MU69, a KBO one billion miles beyond Pluto, which it will encounter on New Year's Day 2019, covering a distance of more than 700,000 miles (1.1 million km) per day. The targeted object is known as 2014 MU69; the spacecraft will pass within 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers). 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.
"And now, we've been able to make images farther from Earth than any spacecraft in history".