The New Horizons spacecraft has been exploring the Kuiper Belt, an area on the edge of our solar system filled with frozen floating objects.
The hazy pictures above may not look like much, but they’re the farthest images a manmade spacecraft has ever made from Earth. The distance? Over 6.1 billion kilometers.
Shots of these two icy objects were captured by NASA’s New Horizons space probe. Both are floating in the Kuiper Belt, an area on the edge of our solar system that NASA’s spacecraft is now exploring.
New Horizons is best known for taking stunning photos of Pluto back in 2015. But its mission isn’t done. The probe is traveling further out from our solar system to study what’s in the Kuiper Belt, which is generally made up of frozen masses of rock and ice.
Along the way, New Horizons broke the record for the farthest image captured away from our home planet. Another famous space probe, Voyager 1, was the previous record holder for over 27 years. In February 1990, Voyager 1 was exiting our solar system when it snapped the iconic “Pale Blue Dot” photo — a picture of Earth from over 6.06 billion kilometers away.
Since then, Voyager 1 hasn’t taken any photos. The still-active probe is now over 21 billion kilometers from Earth, but NASA long ago decided to turn off the probe’s camera to save on power.
It wasn’t until this past December when Voyager 1’s record was finally broken. New Horizons had traveled 6.12 billion kilometers when it took a grainy picture of the Wishing Well star cluster.
The probe then followed that up with pictures of two objects floating in the Kuiper Belt, 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85. The neon green and blue images were snapped in false-color to make the objects more distinguishable to the human eye.
New Horizons is slated to observe at least two dozen other objects in the Kuiper Belt, including dwarf planets and asteroid-like masses called Centaurs. On Jan. 1, 2019, the spacecraft is also scheduled to fly past a 20 mile-long frozen mass called 2014 MU69. It’ll be the first up-close look of a Kuiper Belt object.