We'll know for sure when New Horizons gets close, and thankfully its cameras will stay powered on for a while. 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. It'll be the first up-close look of a Kuiper Belt object.
Such is the case with its New Horizons spacecraft, which made history by turning its telescopic camera toward a field of stars on December 5 when it snapped a photograph of the "Wishing Well" galactic star cluster 3.79 billion miles away from Earth.
The record-breaking photo was taken by the New Horizons spacecraft when it flew past Pluto (you'll always be a planet to me, Pluto) in July 2015.
But New Horizons is the first to send back a picture for so far afield.
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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", said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, pointed out that New Horizons' vantage point from about 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) from MU69 will allow it spot details about the size of a basketball court.
New Horizons has been on an extended mission in the Kuiper Belt, a region of the solar system just beyond Neptune's orbit, since 2017. With these pictures, New Horizons breaks a record of 27 years established by the NASA Voyager 1 probe when it captured the famous Earth photograph, Pale Blue Dot, at 6,0 60 million kilometers.
New Horizons is sleeping now, resting up for its next big adventure. Now, the shuttle is currently on its way to study one or more other Kuiper belt objects.
New Horizons has observed several Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) and dwarf planets at unique phase angles, as well as so-called Centaurs - former KBOs in unstable orbits that cross the orbits of the giant planets on the edge of our solar system. "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. It is similar to the Asteroid Belt, but it is far larger. If a craft were launched today it would take a decade to travel as far as New Horizons has, and there are no immediate plans to follow in its path.
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