Fastest spacecraft ever launched at 36,373 miles per hour (when it left Earth orbit)? Check. First to explore Pluto? Already done. First to explore the Kuiper Belt? Doing it as we speak. Add the farthest image ever made from Earth to New Horizons’ impressive list of firsts.
On December 5, New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) captured a routine calibration frame of the ‘Wishing Well’ galactic open cluster.
New Horizons captured this image as it was cruising 3.79 billion miles from Earth, making it the farthest image ever made from Earth. The ‘Wishing Well’ snapshot bumped one of the most iconic photographs of all time from the top spot.
On February 14, 1990, Voyager 1 turned its camera back towards Earth and made the famous ‘Pale Blue Dot’ image from a distance of 3.75 billion miles.
The ‘Wishing Well’ snapshot didn’t last long at the top. Two hours later, New Horizons captured a pair of Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs). 2012 HZ84 is seen below on the left. 2012 HE85 is seen on the right.
New Horizons will log many more firsts before its mission comes to an end. On December 9, the spacecraft became the most distant to ever perform a course-correction maneuver. The 152-second engine burn helped adjust its course for a January 1, 2019 encounter with Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69.
Today, New Horizons is in hibernation mode until June 4. Mission controllers will wake the spacecraft and perform a series of system checks as it gets ready for its MU69 encounter.
According to New Horizons Mission Design Lead Yanping Guo, another course-correction opportunity is coming in October 2018. Right as the MU69 approach phase begins. Any tweaks to New Horizons trajectory will be made then. And with them, another new record.
New Horizons will spend most of next year sending back data collected from its MU69 flyby back to Earth.
There is one record New Horizons won’t take from Voyager 1. Fastest spacecraft to leave the Solar System. When Voyager 1 reached 100 AU from the Sun, it was traveling at 17 kilometers per second. When New Horizons hits the same distance, it’ll be traveling around 13 kilometers per second.
New Horizons left us in awe with photos of Pluto. We’re less than a year away from seeing another icy world in the far reaches of the solar system.
Top image: ‘Wishing Well’ Cluster (NGC 3532) as seen by ESO’s 2.2 meter telescope in Chile.