NASA space probe takes 'furthest ever' photo from Earth


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - The NASA spacecraft that gave us close-ups of Pluto has set a record for the farthest photos ever taken.

The spacecraft became the first to fly over Pluto in 2015, and the first to explore the Kuiper Belt.

FILE - This image made available by NASA on Friday, July 24, 2015 shows a combination of images captured by the New Horizons spacecraft with enhanced colors to show differences in the composition and texture of Pluto's surface.

After its visit to Pluto, New Horizons is now heading towards its next target and will make a close encounter with a Kuiper Belt object named 2014 MU69 on January 1, 2019.

The hazy pictures above may not look like much, but they're the farthest images a manmade spacecraft has ever made from Earth. The New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) took those record-breaking image of the Wishing Well star cluster. Thanks to observations from Earth, the New Horizons mission team believes that MU69 may not be just one object, but perhaps two objects located close together.

"New Horizons has always been a mission of firsts - first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched", Alan Stern, the mission's principal investigator, said in the NASA statement.

Launched in 2006, New Horizons spacecraft is created to explore worlds at the our solar system. The red line marks the path of the New Horizons spacecraft.

New Horizons was even farther from home than NASA's Voyager 1 when it captured the famous "Pale Blue Dot" image of Earth.

During its extended mission in the Kuiper Belt, which began in 2017, New Horizons is aiming to observe at least two-dozen other KBOs, dwarf planets and "Centaurs", former KBOs in unstable orbits that cross the orbits of the giant planets.

Since New Horizons is just the fifth spacecraft to speed beyond the outer planets, many of its activities have set distance records, too. It finished its primary mission with the Pluto flyby in 2015 and is now on an extended mission to explore the Kuiper Belt, helping the U.S. to complete its reconnaissance of our solar system. When that happens, it will break the record again. New Horizons began its Kuiper Belt mission past year.

With diameters of a hundred kilometers or so, the two Kuiper belt objects are not large enough to classify as dwarf planets.

On Earth, NASA's Deep Space Network antenna dishes catch the faint signals coming from New Horizons and reassemble the raw data into a usable form.