They might not look like much, sure―the above images are the closest ever taken of objects within the Kuiper Belt―but it's a landmark moment for space photography all the same.
Launched in 2006, New Horizons is headed toward 2014 MU69, an icy world 1 billion miles beyond Pluto. A composite of 60 images, that image became known as the "Pale Blue Dot", made more famous by Carl Sagan's description of Earth as "a mote of dust suspended on a sunbeam".
That's because they were taken from the farthest point from planet Earth of any images ever captured, snapped by a spacecraft just over 3.79 billion miles (6.12 billion kilometers) from its home planet.
Now, it's reportedly snapped the farthest photo from Earth that's ever been taken. Then, mere hours later, it beat its own record with yet another photo from 3.79 billion miles away of celestial objects in the Kuiper Belt. The Kuiper Belt is a disc-shaped expanse past the orbit of Neptune, about 2.7 billion to 9.3 billion miles (4.4 billion to 14.9 billion km) from the sun, that contains thousands of icy objects, comets and dwarf planets.
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New Horizons is speeding toward its second target, 2014 MU69, a KBO one billion miles beyond Pluto, which it will encounter on New Year's Day 2019, covering a distance of more than 700,000 miles (1.1 million km) per day.
"Mission scientists study the images to determine the objects' shapes and surface properties, and to check for moons and rings". A similar search was done of the region around Pluto prior to the 2015 flyby. "The spacecraft also is making almost continuous measurements of the plasma, dust and neutral-gas environment along its path".
The New Horizons broke a 28-year-old record held by the Voyager 1.
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.
"New Horizons has always been a mission of firsts-first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched", said Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine's guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. Flight controllers at a Johns Hopkins University lab in Laurel, Maryland, will awaken the spacecraft in June and start getting it ready for the flyby.