NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft broke a record of farthest images captured in space, taking photos from a distance of 3.79 billion miles away from Earth.
On December 5, New Horizons trained its camera on the “Wishing Well” cluster of stars, followed by two objects in the Kuiper Belt – the massive band of rocks and dwarf planets on the outer fringes of the solar system, NPR reports.
Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, said in a statement,
New Horizons has long been a mission of firsts — first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched. And now, we’ve been able to make images farther from Earth than any spacecraft in history.
The mission also broke a record that has been stagnant since 1990, when the Voyager 1 spacecraft sent back a final capture of Earth before the cameras on the craft were lost. A composite of 60 images, that image became known as the “Pale Blue Dot,” made more famous by Carl Sagan’s description of Earth as “a mote of dust suspended on a sunbeam.”
New Horizons continues to exceed expectations in its space wanderings. Launched in 2006, the spacecraft made headlines in 2015 when its flyby of Pluto sent back vivid, high-definition images of the cold, icy dwarf planet that used to be but a smudge on telescopes.
The piano-sized probe then turned to the Kuiper Belt. NASA says there are plans for New Horizons to make flyby investigations of some two dozen objects, like “dwarf planets and ‘Centaurs,’ former [Kuiper Belt objects] in unstable orbits that cross the orbits of the giant planets.”
For now, the spacecraft is enjoying some rest as it continues to hurtle away from Earth at around 700,000 miles a day. NASA says mission controllers will “bring the spacecraft out of its electronic slumber” this coming summer as preparation for its next major flyby.