As the interplanetary New Horizons probe woke up from its hibernating slumber, it turned its telescopic camera toward a field of stars and took a picture - making history.
That New Year's flight past MU69 will be the farthest planetary encounter in history, happening one billion miles beyond the Pluto system - which New Horizons famously explored in July 2015, said NASA. The "Pale Blue Dot" image shows Earth as a faraway planet, hence its namesake, revealing how expansive space is compared to our planet.
First, a photo of the "Wishing Well" galactic open star cluster taken 3.79 billion miles from Earth was captured on December 5. Another picture taken by LORRI consists of two objects in the Kuiper belt.
"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, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement.
After the fly-by, the spacecraft continued into the Kuiper Belt - similar to the asteroid belt but further out from the Sun and composed of dwarf planets and frozen ice, rather than rocky bodies.
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The previous record - not set on December 9, 2017 - came from the beloved Voyager 1 back in February 1990 with its "Pale Blue Dot" image of Earth from 3.75 billion miles from home.
New Horizons has observed several Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) and dwarf planets at unique phase angles, as well as so-called Centaurs - former KBOs in unstable orbits that cross the orbits of the giant planets on the edge of our solar system.
Today NASA released a set of images captured by New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager on December 5 of past year, when the piano-sized probe was 3.79 billion miles from Earth.
Fortunately, the spacecraft is healthy and functioning properly, although it is now in hibernation. The voyager one had taken captured the images on February 14, 1990. The craft has since changed course to study the distant Kuiper Belt objects, and will make a close encounter with MU69 (nice) on 1 January 2019.
NASA reports that the cameras on the Voyager 1 were turned off shortly after that image was made, which kept the record intact for almost 30 years.