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New Horizons spacecraft is now 50 AU from the Sun

Dec 29, 2018
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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft achieved a major milestone on Saturday, April 17, when it reached a distance of 50 AU (astronomical units, with one AU equal to the average Earth-Sun distance or 93 million miles or 150 million kilometers), meaning it is now 50 times as far from the Sun than the Earth.

That puts the probe at nearly five billion miles (7.5 billion kilometers) from our planet.

Launched in January 2006, the spacecraft, which crossed the 50 AU threshold at 8:42 a.m. EDT (12:42 UTC) Saturday, is just the fifth to reach this milestone. Like its predecessors Pioneers 10 and 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2, New Horizons, now deep within the Kuiper Belt, is on a trajectory to eventually leave the solar system.

To commemorate the occasion, New HorizonsLong Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) took a picture of the starfield in the direction where Voyager 1, the most distant probe launched from Earth, is traveling. Voyager 1, now 152 AU from the Sun, is too small and too distant to appear in the image, which includes stars and several remote galaxies.

“That’s a hauntingly beautiful image to me,” mission principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, said of the photo. “Looking back at the flight of New Horizons from Earth to 50 AU almost seems in some way like a dream. Flying a spacecraft across our entire solar system to explore Pluto and the Kuiper Belt had never been done before New Horizons.”

LORRI image of the starfield in the direction Voyager 1 is traveling. The yellow circle shows Voyager 1's location. Photo Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Southwest Research Institute

LORRI image of the starfield in the direction Voyager 1 is traveling. The yellow circle shows Voyager 1’s location. Photo Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Southwest Research Institute
Additionally, he noted, “Never before has a spacecraft in the Kuiper Belt photographed the location of an even more distant spacecraft, now in interstellar space. Although Voyager 1 is too faint to be seen directly in the image, its location is known precisely due to NASA’s radio tracking.”

Traveling at the universal speed of light, radio signals to and from New Horizons now take seven hours each way.

“It’s hard to imagine something so far away. One thing that makes this distance tangible is how long it takes for us on Earth to confirm that the spacecraft received our instructions. This went from almost instantaneous to now being on the order of 14 hours. It makes the extreme distance real,” emphasized mission operations manager Alice Bowman of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) in Laurel, Maryland.

Following its launch on an Atlas V rocket, New Horizons began its journey traveling 36,400 miles (58,500 kilometers) per hour. It conducted a flyby of Jupiter just 13 months later and received a gravity assist from the giant planet before traversing the solar system in a nine-and-a-half-year journey to Pluto.

After its historic Pluto flyby in July 2015, the spacecraft went on to a close encounter with Kuiper Belt Object Arrokoth, the most distant object ever visited by any probe, on New Year’s Day 2019.

Mission scientists are now using the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan‘s (NAOJ) Subaru Telescope in Hawaii and other ground-based observatories to search for a third flyby target. From its vantage point in the Kuiper Belt, New Horizons is studying the space environment and solar wind.

This coming summer, mission scientists will improve the spacecraft’s capabilities by sending it a software upgrade.

Pioneer 10, launched in 1972, sent its last transmission to Earth in 2003. Its partner, Pioneer 11, launched in 1973, sent its final transmission back in 1995.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are still transmitting back to Earth although both will eventually run out of power. New Horizons is expected to have sufficient power to continue operating through the late 2030s or possibly even 2040.



Amazing achievement and the image of Voyager 1 location some 150 AU from the Sun and deep into Interstellar space is just mind blowing.
 

Rival

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Those are microscopic distance. The size of our galaxy is 6 billion AU. The nearest neighboring galaxy, Andromeda , is 158,102,750,000 AU away.
It sort of freaks me out when I try to start thinking of these incredibly vast distances and how they even relate in comparison the the entire universe especially when you start considering the universe expanding into infinite distances. Astronomy is my favorite thing to read about I just wish I was smart enough to understand things better. It’s so incredible to realize how much we don’t know.
 
Dec 29, 2018
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That image is INCREDIBLE!

Closer Look: Majestic Mountains and Frozen Plains: Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft looked back toward the sun and captured this near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto’s horizon. The smooth expanse of the informally named Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. The backlighting highlights more than a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s tenuous but distended atmosphere. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to Pluto; the scene is 230 miles (380 kilometers) across.
Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)
 
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Patrick S.

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Closer Look: Majestic Mountains and Frozen Plains: Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft looked back toward the sun and captured this near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto’s horizon. The smooth expanse of the informally named Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. The backlighting highlights more than a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s tenuous but distended atmosphere. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to Pluto; the scene is 230 miles (380 kilometers) across.
Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)
I love pictures like these. Man, it would be so awesome to take a peek a couple hundred years into the future and see how humanity, if still around, has advanced space travel and colonization.
 
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T8SC

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Amazing. When it launched, Pluto was still a planet, one we had no real images of. We now have some amazing photos of Pluto, the dwarf planet. A fantastic achievement by all involved, long may the extended mission continue, in the same vein as both Voyager craft.
 
Dec 29, 2018
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I love pictures like these. Man, it would be so awesome to take a peek a couple hundred years into the future and see how humanity, if still around, has advanced space travel and colonization.
True. I'm more eager for scientific breakthroughs on a unified theory of the universe. That would bust the door wide open to interstellar travel.
 

Aggelos

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Voyager 1,2, Pioneer, Cassini, New Horizons, et al, all of them did a fantastic job to bring us breath-taking images from the Solar System, plus measurements, findings, readings, observations, and whatnot.
Now we need a new generation of space probes., that will investigate liquid water beyond the habitable zone. Because it's a mantra of NASA, ESA, astrobiologists, astrophysicists, and whatnot "to follow the water wherever it takes you".
We need to know if and whether life is a natural process in our universe, if only it is given the right prerequisites/environment to arise (one of them being liquid water). Europa and the other moons beyond the habitable zone are the place to look for answers.





I'm still holding my breath for this engineering masterpiece... It's been long overdue. Seems to be planned for an October launch (unless it gets delayed again).



 
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Diatribe1974

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These are images they've let us see. I know it sounds highly conspiratorial, but can you image some of the pictures they've sat around going "Yeah, they're not going to see this. Ooooh no. Nononononoooo."
 

MastaKiiLA

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I wish they'd take a new Pale Blue Dot shot with New Horizons. Maybe the geometry is right to frame up the Earth in the shot.
 
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FunkMiller

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I love pictures like these. Man, it would be so awesome to take a peek a couple hundred years into the future and see how humanity, if still around, has advanced space travel and colonization.

We'll probably have made it to Mars in a manned mission, but much beyond that remains in considerable doubt. Certainly a presence on the moon is probably assured, as a staging post for space travel. We'll probably also have more equivalents of the ISS, though likely privately owned. I very much doubt we'll have established any kind of presence on any other bodies in our solar system though. I would hope we have a better understanding of what dark energy actually is, and therefore a better understanding of how and why the universe continues to expand at the rate it does.
 

Fbh

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Space is incredible. It really bumps me out that we'll only see the tiniest fraction of it in my lifetime, but it doesn't take away from how incredible these new images and data have been.

One thing that makes this distance tangible is how long it takes for us on Earth to confirm that the spacecraft received our instructions. This went from almost instantaneous to now being on the order of 14 hours.
Oh, so it's like the PSN store on PS3.
 
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FunkMiller

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Those are microscopic distance. The size of our galaxy is 6 billion AU. The nearest neighboring galaxy, Andromeda , is 158,102,750,000 AU away.

And here's Hubble's famous deep field photo, wherein every spot of light you can see is not a star, it's a different galaxy:




...and this is just a tiny section of the universe that Hubble concentrated on in Ursa Major. About the size of your fingernail if you held it up to the night sky.
 
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nkarafo

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Enhanced for contrast. This is considered true color:



And Pluto's moon, Charon, also taken by New Horizons:

Thanks.

I always prefer true color images over anything else. It's much more awe-inspiring if you see an object as you would flying close to it.
 
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poppabk

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Those are microscopic distance. The size of our galaxy is 6 billion AU. The nearest neighboring galaxy, Andromeda , is 158,102,750,000 AU away.
The sheer amount of 'stuff' just sitting out there is amazing and humbling. Reminds me of the Total Perspective Vortex.
 

TheMan

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Those are microscopic distance. The size of our galaxy is 6 billion AU. The nearest neighboring galaxy, Andromeda , is 158,102,750,000 AU away.
Really brings home how unlikely it is humans will leave our galaxy. Hell, leaving the solar system would be an amazing feat but it's so far to the nearest star that it's like comparing stepping over a crack in the sidewalk to jumping across the grand canyon.
 
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