NASA Breaks a Record With New Horizons Photos—Never Has a Camera Been So Far From Earth

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft released photos taken from the greatest distance from Earth ever, the administration announced Thursday. In December, the New Horizons spacecraft took photos using the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), breaking a 27-year-old record twice within hours.

First, a photo of the “Wishing Well” galactic open star cluster taken 3.79 billion miles from Earth was captured on December 5. LORRI then captured Kuiper Belt objects known as 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85—breaking its own record just two hours later. The images of the Kuiper Belt objects are the closest images ever of these objects and, now, officially the farthest from Earth.

kbo_2102hz84_and_kbo_2102he85 With its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), New Horizons has observed several Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) and dwarf planets at unique phase angles, as well as Centaurs at extremely high phase angles to search for forward-scattering rings or dust. These December 2017 false-color images of KBOs 2012 HZ84 (left) and 2012 HE85 are, for now, the farthest from Earth ever captured by a spacecraft. They're also the closest images of Kuiper Belt objects. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

“New Horizons has long 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. “And now, we’ve been able to make images farther from Earth than any spacecraft in history.”

The photos taken far into space are a part of the New Horizons spacecraft mission, the fifth spacecraft to go beyond the outer planets. The photos released Thursday break the record of the “Pale Blue Dot” photo.

That photo was taken on February 14, 1990, by NASA’s Voyager 1 at 3.75 billion miles from Earth. The “Pale Blue Dot” image shows Earth as a faraway planet, hence its namesake, revealing how expansive space is compared to our planet. Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer whose words on the “Pale Blue Dot” are widely known, requested the photo be taken.

ThePaleBlueDot Earth can be seen as a tiny dot in the middle of the orange stripe on the right side in this "Pale Blue Dot" photograph, taken by NASA's Voyager 1 in 1990, nearly 4 billion miles from Earth. NASA

Sagan wrote about the “Pale Blue Dot” photo, saying that the dot is where “everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lives out their lives.”

He continued: “The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Whether these new photos will inspire poetic words like those of Sagan’s about humans’ distant and seemingly arbitrary place in the cosmos is yet to be seen.