New Horizons broke its own record a couple of hours later that day by taking images of two space rocks in the Kuiper Belt, a disc-shaped region beyond Neptune that may be home to hundreds of thousands of icy worlds and a trillion or more comets, according to a NASA statement. The subjects include the "Wishing Well" star cluster as well as two large objects in the Kuiper Belt which have never been observed from such a distance before.
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has broken the record for an image taken at the farthest distance from Earth in history.
That image was made at a vantage point of 3.75 billion miles from Earth.
This December 2017 false-color image made available by NASA in February 2018 shows KBO (Kuiper Belt object) 2012 HZ84.
For a couple of hours, this New Horizons image of the so-called Wishing Well star cluster, snapped on December 5, 2017, was the farthest image ever captured by a spacecraft.
Until now, the photo was taken farther away from Earth than any image ever, a record that stood for more than 27 years.
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New Horizons is the probe that flew by Pluto on July 14, 2015, and beamed back those fantastic pictures. These images once again broke the record for being the most distant images taken from Earth (again), but also set a new record for the closest-ever images ever taken of KBOs.
"Mission scientists study the images to determine the objects' shapes and surface properties, and to check for moons and rings", the space agency says.
Flight controllers at the lab will awaken the spacecraft in June (it's now in electronic hibernation) and start getting it ready for the flyby. "The spacecraft also is making almost continuous measurements of the plasma, dust and neutral-gas environment along its path", it added. It is due to pass by an object there known as 2014 MU69 at the beginning of 2019.
NASA program director Alan Stern said: "New Horizons has always been a first-time mission, the first to explore Pluto, the first to explore the Camping Zone and the fastest spacecraft ever launched". It will be the farthest planetary encounter in history.
Beginning in 2017, New Horizons' extended mission in the Kuiper Belt aims to complete the reconnaissance of the solar system.
NASA also plans for the spacecraft to observe at least two-dozen other KBOs, dwarf planets, and Centaurs - the former KBOS in unstable orbits that cross the orbits of giant planets.