New Horizons' Recently Captured Image Breaks Voyager 1's 27-Year Record

Posted February 15, 2018

This was after the spacecraft took the famous "Pale Blue Dot" photo at a distance of 3.75 billion miles away from Earth.

New Horizons is headed toward a KBO dubbed 2014 MU69, one of more than 20 far-off chunks of rock and ice NASA hopes to observe during the spacecraft's mission. These pictures show two objects in the Kuiper Belt, the so-called twilight zone on the fringes of our solar system. NASA says Voyager 1's cameras were turned off after that, so its photography record has been unchallenged for more than 27 years. However, an image captured by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft just smashed Voyager 1's achievement.

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According to NASA, New Horizons is now the fifth spacecraft to fly beyond the outer planets of our solar system.

"New Horizons has always been a mission of firsts - first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched", New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, notes in a statement. Voyager 1 shut off its camera the same year it captured the "Pale Blue Dot" image and Voyager 2 shut down its cameras after imaging Neptune in 1989. That won't be happening with New Horizons. From here on out, every image it sends back will be the most distant image ever sent back. To send its recent images of the KBOs, Stern tells Pappas, it took the craft four hours just to transmit the data and another six hours for that information to reach Earth, where NASA's Deep Space Network is able to gather the faint signal.

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However, that might not be the last we hear from New Horizons, as its power source could continue to provide life into 2026 and beyond. While this image broke the long-distance record established by Voyager 1, the probe then turned its LORRI instrument towards objects in its flight path. So long as the mission goes according to plan, New Horizons could hold on to its lead for a long time.

According to the press release, New Horizons is now back in hibernation mode and will reawaken on June 4 to begin preparations for a January 1, 2019 rendezvous with 2014 MU69, which is almost a billion miles beyond Pluto.

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But the New Horizons photos are a worthwhile reminder that as technology improves, and as NASA probes and crafts work their way deeper and deeper into space, there's going to be a wealth of interesting, engrossing, and attractive photos as a result.