NASA space probe takes 'furthest ever' photo from Earth

Enlarge Image New Horizons captured this record-breaking image of the Wishing Well star cluster in December.                  NASA  JHUAPL  SwRI

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.

The image at the top of the page is of several Kuiper Belt objects including some far-out dwarf planets and Centaurs, the space agency reports.

Earth can be seen as a tiny dot in the middle of the orange stripe on the right side in this "Pale Blue Dot" photograph, taken by NASA's Voyager 1 in 1990, almost 4 billion miles from Earth.

"The viewer first passes over the western margin of Sputnik, where it borders the dark, cratered terrain of Cthulhu Macula, with the blocky mountain ranges located within the plains seen on the right". However, the origins and function of the water ice are still a mystery to scientists.

The hazy pictures above may not look like much, but they're the farthest images a manmade spacecraft has ever made from Earth. With its latest wake-up, it broke the record for the farthest image humanity has ever taken away from Earth. 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". 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".

In 1994, USA astronomer Carl Sagan reflected on the significance of the photograph to an audience at Cornell University, famously coining its name as the Pale Blue Dot, and giving one of the most widely published speeches of all time. The images of 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85 provide vital context to the understudied bodies at the solar system's bleeding edge. (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.

Launched in 2006, the New Horizons mission stayed true to its name. A Pluto-style flyby is scheduled for January 1, 2019. 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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