Captures a goosebump image as the milestone distance from the sun approaches new horizons

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Somewhere within that yellow circle is the Voyager 1 spacecraft.
Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Southwest Research Institute

With Pluto in its rearview mirror, the sample now lies 50 times more away from the Sun than the Earth hours from a milestone distance. The spacecraft did a job that was never previously tried at the edge of the solar system to commemorate its achievement.

At 8:42 p.m. EDT on Saturday 17 April, New Horizons will have 50 AUs from the Sun, with an AU of around 1 million miles from the Earth to the Sun (150 million kilometers).

This number, however, represents a rare achievement: New Horizons joins the elite group of spacecraft to reach that distance, the others pioneers 10 and 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2. This number is a milestone, which is totally arbitrary and pleases our base 10. Of these, Voyager 1 is currently 152.5 UA from Sun, or 14.2 billion miles, the most human-made object ever to be made (22.9 billion km).

New Horizons now joins an elite group of spacecraft to reach 50 astronomical units.
Graphic: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Southwest Research Institute

New Horizons is now about 5 billion miles (7.5 milliards kilometers) from Earth, which was launched on 19 January 2006. It takes light 7 hours to reach Earth at this distance, which means that it takes 14 hours to send instructions to the sonde, which then receives a confirmed signal on Earth. The sonde is so far from home that it now has a different view of distant stars than ourselves.

NASA celebrated the achievement by pointing the camera of New Horizons in the space Voyager 1.

“Never before did a spacecraft photograph an even more remote spacecraft in Kuiper Belt, now in interstellar space,” NASA declared in a statement. “Though Voyager 1 was far too weak to see straight in the picture, due to NASA’s radio tracking, it was precisely known.”

Artist’s impression of New Horizons.
Image: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Alan Stern, Chief Investigator of New Horizons at Colorado’s Southwest Research Institute, described this as a “hardly beautiful picture” and I would be happy to agree. In the photograph, we are remembered to be an interstellar species at the beginning, and that every passing day our reach into the world is deeper.

Earlier mission milestones include Jupiter’s flybies in 2007 and Pluto in 2015, and the meeting with the strangely shaped Arrokoth in 2019.