NASA just broke a photography record with photos taken in Kuiper Belt

Nettie James
February 11, 2018

On December 5, New Horizons took a snap of a star cluster dubbed "Wishing well" and at that time it was nearly 3.79 billion miles (6.12 billion kilometers) away from Earth.

Using the aforementioned LORRI tool, New Horizons managed to snap images of multiple Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs), as well as dwarf planets, including the 2012 HE85 and 2012 HZ84 KBOs shown in the image above. When the probe Voyager 1 was 3.75 billion miles from Earth, on Valentine's Day 1990, it turned its camera toward home and took a photo, called the Pale Blue Dot.

Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute said, "New Horizons has always been a mission of firsts - first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched". Thanks to observations from Earth, the New Horizons mission team believes that MU69 may not be just one object, but perhaps two objects located close together.

Shortly after midnight Eastern Time on January 1, 2019 - NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will buzz by the most primitive and most distant object ever explored. They were captured 3.79 billion miles (6.12 billion kilometers) from Earth in December.

New Horizons will fly about three times closer to MU69 than it did to Pluto in July 2015, allowing the spacecraft's cameras to provide a more detailed look at the object's surface. He further said that now they have been able to make images farther from Earth than any spacecraft in history. (Pluto is one of these dwarf planets.) 2014 MU69 is almost a billion miles beyond Pluto, which itself is 4.67 billion miles (7.5 billion km) beyond Earth.

New Horizons covers more than 1.1 million km of space each day (KBO). (Dwarf planet Pluto is a part of the belt, but it was not recognized as such until the discovery of other Kuiper objects in the early 2000s.) Pluto was estimated in 2015 to be the largest object in the belt, though there are other dwarf planets of note, such as Eris, Haumea and Makemake.

The Kuiper Belt is a circumstellar disc in the outer Solar System extending from the orbit of Neptune (at 30 AU) to approximately 50 AU from the Sun. "This post-Pluto mission is a complete and comprehensive exploration of the Kuiper Belt", said Alice Bowman, New Horizons mission operations manager, also from APL. Another picture taken by LORRI consists of two objects in the Kuiper belt. In the first week of December, it passed the Pale Blue Dot's record distance.

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.

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