NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has returned some magnificent images of the Solar System's outer reaches around Pluto, its primary target. Its latest snaps may not be its most spectacular, but are pioneering in their own way as the farthest images ever snapped away from the Earth.
New Horizons grabbed the below black and white photo as it turned its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) toward a cluster of stars known as the Wishing Well, which are around 1,300 light years away from Earth. The craft itself was zipping through space around 3.79 billion miles from Earth, further away than the Voyager 1 spacecraft when it snapped the iconic Pale Blue Dot image in 1990 at a distance of 3.75 billion miles.
But this record didn't stand for long. In fact New Horizons broke it again two hours later when LORRI was turned toward Kuiper Belt objects 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85, the closest ever images of Kuiper Belt objects. And with the probe continuing to hurtle through space at a speed of 700,000 miles (1.1 million km) per day, it will continue to collect more and more distant views of the solar system.
The New Horizons spacecraft is said to be in good condition and is currently hibernating, with mission control planning to awaken it again on June 4 in preparation for a flyby of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 on Jan. 1st, 2019. Continuing with the theme, this will be the most remote flyby in the history of robotic space exploration.
The New Horizons team turned its attention to the Kuiper Belt once its work exploring Pluto was complete, specifically targeting 2014 MU69. Scientists analyzing data from the Hubble Space Telescope and ESA's Gaia mission last year were able determine that the object may be shaped like a stretched out American football or even possibly be two separate bodies, configurations scientists described as "provocative" and a potential "scientific bonanza." All will be revealed in due course.
Update: This original article contained errors regarding the date of New Horizon's rendezvous with 2014 MU69 and its path through the solar system. We apologize for the error and thank the readers who pointed it out.
Want a cleaner, faster loading and ad free reading experience?
Try New Atlas Plus. Learn more