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14 February 2018, 07:12 | Ruben Fields
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NASA has published a pair of record-breaking photos.
"New Horizons has always been a mission of firsts - first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched", Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, released Thursday.
At the time, New Horizons was 3.79 billion miles (6.12 billion kilometers) from Earth.
They might not look like much, sure―the above images are the closest ever taken of objects within the Kuiper Belt―but it's a landmark moment for space photography all the same.
But NASA'sNew Horizons spacecraft has now broken that record, sending back several photos from the Kuiper Belt, a region of the outer Solar System beyond Neptune. These December 2017 false-color images of KBOs 2012 HZ84 (left) and 2012 HE85 are, for now, the farthest from Earth ever captured by a spacecraft.
New Horizons first broke Voyager's photo-distance record on December 5, 2017, with an image of the "Wishing Well" star cluster, which it shot as part of a routine calibration process when it was 3.79 billion miles from Earth.
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. However, that might not be the last we hear from New Horizons, as its power source could continue to provide life into 2026 and beyond.
Voyager 1's record remained unchallenged for almost three decades after NASA turned off its cameras shortly after taking the legendary shot.
New Horizon's principal investigator Alan Stern said in the statement that the unmanned, piano-sized probe, launched in 2006, "has been a mission of firsts - first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched".
The probe then turned its attention to the distant Kuiper Belt. As Stephanie Pappas at LiveScience reports, after snapping an image and storing it on its hard drive, New Horizons sends its data back on an antenna that transmits at only 12 watts, moving data at a snail's pace-only two kilobits per second.
Were you impressed by New Horizons' achievement? Two Pioneer probes-Pioneer 10 and 11-have also traveled farther away than New Horizons, but NASA lost contact with them years ago. It's headed toward an even closer encounter with another icy world, 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto, on January 1, 2019.
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