Today NASA released a set of images captured by New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager on December 5 of previous year, when the piano-sized probe was 3.79 billion miles from Earth. Even though it's napping, NASA says New Horizons still covers over 700,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers) of space each day. It was on February 14, 1990, that the Voyager 1 spacecraft looked back at our solar system and snapped the famous "Pale Blue Dot" image.
Voyager 1's cameras were turned off shortly after that portrait, leaving its distance record unchallenged for more than 27 years.
However, just two hours later, New Horizons LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) broke its own record and captured images of Kuiper Belt objects (KBO) from ever farther away.
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. Or restarted. The probe is periodically in communication with the mission team as it closes in on its next target, a Kuiper Belt object (or perhaps even two paired objects) known as 2014 MU69. Specifically, New Horizons is targeting 2014 MU69, a mysterious object (or pair of two objects) which Alan Stern, mission principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), has called "provocative" and a "scientific bonanza".
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"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, the mission's principal investigator, said in the NASA statement.
Most of the time, New Horizons is sleeping - hibernating, to save energy. The red line marks the path of the New Horizons spacecraft. The spacecraft is also making nearly continuous measurements of the plasma, dust and neutral-gas environment during its journey.
New Horizons, in contrast, is just getting started. As of this writing, it's the farthest image ever made from Earth. The transmission rate for New Horizons is only about 2 kilobits per second. "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. They're also the closest-ever images of Kuiper Belt objects. (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.