New Horizons snaps image 3.8 billion miles away from Earth

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At present, the New Horizons probe is at a distance of 6.12 billion km (3.79 billion mi) from Earth.

When New Horizon's snapped a photo with its telescopic camera for a routine calibration frame of the Wishing Well star cluster, it was farther into space than even NASA's Voyager 1 had been when it captured its famous "Pale Blue Dot" image of Earth, the space agency says.

Prior to New Horizons' star shot, the image taken farthest from Earth was one of the Blue Marble snapped by the Voyager 1 spacecraft on February 14, 1990. As Ben Guarino reports for The Washington Post, the New Horizons spacecraft has set a new record, taking an image of objects in the Kuiper Belt while 3.79 billion miles from home. NASA says mission controllers will "bring the spacecraft out of its electronic slumber" this coming summer in anticipation of its next major close encounter, with an object known as 2014 MU69 on January 1, 2019. According to a NASA press release, two hours later, it snapped images of KBOs 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85, setting yet another record.

New Horizons originally launched way back in early 2006, and it the spacecraft has made close passes of a number of planets during its more than a decade of cruising through our Solar System.

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"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, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, released Thursday.

"Pale Blue Dot", which shows the Earth as a point of light in a sunbeam, was a precious record-holder for farthest photo captured from Earth.

Artist's impression of New Horizons encountering a Pluto-like object in the distant Kuiper Belt.

To date, New Horizons is the fifth spacecraft to venture beyond the outer planets.

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New Horizons snapped these two farthest-out shots, of Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85, on December 5, 2017.

The piano-sized probe then turned to the Kuiper Belt. Two Pioneer probes-Pioneer 10 and 11-have also traveled farther away than New Horizons, but NASA lost contact with them years ago.

The mission also broke a record that has been stagnant since 1990, when the Voyager 1 spacecraft sent back a final capture of Earth before the cameras on the craft were lost.

For now, though, New Horizons is now enjoying some well-deserved hibernation as it hurtles away from us at a rate of roughly 700,000 miles a day.

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