Billions of kilometers away from home, the New Horizons space probe has made history as it captured photos at the farthest distance from Earth.
Using its built-in Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, it snapped an image of an open cluster named the "Wishing Well" last Dec. 5 from a distance of 6.12 billion kilometers. At that time, it set the record for being the first photos to be taken at the greatest distance from the planet.
However, the spacecraft surpassed its own record in only two hours. After traveling another billion kilometers into the outer solar system, it took photos of Kuiper Belt Object 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85.
Before New Horizons, Voyager 1 held the title when it captured 60 images of the solar system from 6.06 billion kilometers away on Feb. 14, 1990. This collection included the famous photo of the Earth known as the "Pale Blue Dot."
The space probe's cameras were switched off shortly after the images were captured. This made Voyager 1's record unmatched for nearly three decades.
NASA reports that New Horizons is presently in electronic hibernation. Its controllers stationed at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland will once again man the space probe on June 4 to prepare the spacecraft for its new destination.
NASA Space Probe's Next Flyby Target
After reshaping history, New Horizons will head toward KBO 2014 MU69 to gather more data about its nature. This investigation is expected to answer the longstanding question if the target is actually comprised of two objects.
MU69, which is found more than 6.5 billion kilometers away, shot past in front of a star on July 17, 2017. NASA telescopes in Argentina were able to capture the object's fleeting shadow, giving them preliminary information about its size and shape as well as its surrounding environment.
KBO MU69: Single Body Or Binary Pair?
As the space agency's team observed the event called occultation, they noted that the KBO could be different than previously thought. It appeared to be more of a "prolate spheroid" made up of a binary pair. It is also possible for it to be one single object with a large missing chunk.
The team also determined that MU69 is around 30 kilometers in length as a single body. If it is indeed comprised by a binary pair, each component would have a diameter between 15 and 20 kilometers.
NASA estimates the probe to pass the object on Jan. 1, 2019. It will travel more than 1.6 billion miles beyond Pluto and set another record for the farthest fly by in space exploration history.