These Record Breaking Pics Were Snapped Further Out in Space Than Any Picture Ever Taken

The NASA New Horizons probe just set a new interstellar exploration record, taking pictures from further out in space than ever before – it snapped the shots you see above some 6.12 billion kilometres (3.79 billion miles) away from Earth.

That’s about 6 million kilometres (3.7 million miles) further out than the Voyager 1 spacecraft was when it captured the famous Pale Blue Dot image of Earth back in 1990. Since Voyager 1’s cameras were turned off shortly after that shot was taken, the record has stood for the past 27 years.

The new record-breaking photos show two Kuiper Belt objects, 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85. As fuzzy as they are, they’re the closest look we’ve ever got at any objects inside this vast icy ring, which circles the Sun about 30 to 55 times further out than Earth.

“New Horizons has long been a mission of firsts – first to explore Pluto, first to explore the Kuiper Belt, fastest spacecraft ever launched,” says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

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

In fact, New Horizons broke the record twice in quick succession, first snapping a shot of a group of distant stars called the Wishing Well, around 1,300 light-years away from our planet. That was followed up with the shots of the Kuiper Belt two hours later.

These photos were captured in December by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on board New Horizons, and were shot just before it went back into hibernation.

New Horizons first left Earth in 2006 with the aim of flying by Pluto, which it did in 2015, taking some dramatic photos along the way. Since then it’s been heading into the Kuiper Belt, and will carry out a flyby of Kuiper Belt object (KBO) 2014 MU69 in January 2019.

new horizons kbo 2The Wishing Well star cluster.

By that time 2014 MU69 should have a catchier name attached to it – NASA is asking for suggestions.

The probe continues to cover around 1.1 million kilometres or 700,000 miles of deep space every day, and is only the fifth man-made object in history – after Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, Voyager 2, and Voyager 1 – to be on course to fly beyond the reaches of our Solar System.

As anyone who’s ever tried to keep a camera steady will know, taking pictures at that speed is an impressive feat.

Before we eventually lose touch with New Horizons, it’s hoped that it will tell us plenty more about the Kuiper Belt. The probe is measuring levels of plasma, dust, and gases as it travels, and will eventually take a look at more than 20 other KBOs.

New Horizons is going to get nudged out of hibernation again on the 4th of June. In the meantime, we can marvel at these record-breaking deep space photographs.

NASA hails new era of laser-fast interplanetary internet

NASA has just set a new record for communication speeds in space by firing lasers at the moon and achieving download speeds five times faster than via the radio signals we currently employ for the task.

An artist's concept of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft firing its maneuvering thrusters in order to maintain a safe altitude as it orbits the moon. (Image Credit:<br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
NASA Ames / Dana Berry)

The information beamed by lasers on Earth was sent to a probe named Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), launched last month with the aim of measuring the Moon’s hardly evident atmosphere while orbiting it. Aboard that probe are a series of lasers mounted onto the outer hull.

Those lasers constitute a device called the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD), and its recent data transmissions hit speeds of up to 622 megabits per second (Mbps), with an upload rate of 75 Mbps, NASA reported. This is about 10 times as fast as the strongest download speeds the commercial Internet can reach.

The need for a technology that does not rely on radio waves grows stronger the farther away a space vessel is. Earth-based satellite dishes have to be larger as well. For example, Voyager 1, our most distant probe, now requires a 70-meter dish with a 34 meter-long antenna on Earth just to receive signals. LLCD functions with the aid of three terminals located at telescopes in New Mexico, California and Spain.

The new possibilities include being able to send data much faster to and from deep space; this will also include higher resolution images and even 3D videos.

“We are encouraged by the results of the demonstration to this point, and we are confident we are on the right path to introduce this new capability into operational service soon,” NASA’s deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation (SCaN) said in a press release.

“We are encouraged by the results of the demonstration to this point, and we are confident we are on the right path to introduce this new capability into operational service soon,” Younes said.

Although this is all spells great news for humanity, the current experiment is to only last for 100 days, before the probe will plummet into the Moon to keep from clogging up the satellite’s already trashy orbital paths.

However, 2017 will mark the start of the program’s new incarnation – the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD). New hardware will be installed and the craft’s ability to endure long periods of operation in space will be tested; this includes operations at distances much farther than from the Earth to the Moon.

The laser equipment used for such data transfers is only four inches (10 centimeters) long and uses much less power than radio communications. The upcoming mission will last two years and is expected to open up new possibilities for sending immense amounts of data about our stellar neighborhood back to us.

Voyager interseller voyage.

After 36 years, Voyager 1 goes interstellar

The tireless Voyager I spacecraft, launched in the disco era and now more than 11 billion miles from Earth, has become the first man-made object to enter interstellar space, scientists said Thursday. Interstellar space, scientists now know with certainty, is dense with particles, and the place is literally hissing. Or maybe you could say it’s whistling in the dark.

“It’s almost a pure tone. Like middle C. But slightly varying, like your piano is not quite tuned right,” said Donald Gurnett, a University of Iowa physicist who has been working on the Voyager mission most of his adult life.

Gurnett is the lead author of a paper published Thursday in the journal Science that provides what seems to be the final, incontrovertible evidence that NASA’s Voyager I has crossed into a realm where no spacecraft has gone before.

Scientists have long thought that there would be a boundary out there, somewhere, where the million-mile-per-hour “solar wind” of particles would give way abruptly to cooler, denser interstellar space, permeated by charged particles from around the galaxy.

That boundary, called the heliopause, turns out to be 11.3 billion miles from the sun, according to Voyager’s instruments and Gurnett’s calculations.

Beyond the boundary, space is — perhaps counterintuitively — much denser with particles. There are 80,000 particles per cubic meter in the region where Voyager I is now, Gurnett said.

The sun’s hot ejecta — a plasma of charged particles — forms a vast bubble, known as the heliosphere. In the outer regions of the heliosphere, the particles are relatively few and far between, with just 1,000 particles per square meter in some regions, Gurnett said. But the heliosphere has an edge. Voyager I’s epochal crossing of the boundary, into the cooler, denser plasma, took place on Aug. 25, 2012, according to the new report.

This confirms earlier findings, published in three papers in Science in June, that Voyager I on that date in August 2012 had experienced a sudden drop in solar radiation and a spike in cosmic particles coming from all around the galaxy.

But the earlier data from the spacecraft had been somewhat ambiguous. The spacecraft continued to pick up magnetic signals that suggested it was still within the sun’s magnetic field. Ed Stone, the chief scientist for Voyager, suggested that Voyager I was flying through a transitional zone.

Now, however, scientists have a new set of measurements thanks in large part to a solar flare. On March 17, 2012, the sun ejected a huge mass of particles, and when those solar particles arrived at Voyager more than a year later, on April 9, they triggered oscillations in the charged particles of matter — the plasma — surrounding the spacecraft.

From the frequency of those oscillations — essentially the sound of space itself — the scientists could interpret the density of the plasma. That density, much higher than anything registered before in the outer solar system, offered compelling evidence that Voyager I had, in fact, entered the interstellar zone.

“For the first time we’ve actually measured the density of the plasma,” Stone said. He said he’s convinced by the new data that his spacecraft has fully penetrated interstellar space.

“It’s great. This is exploration. This is wonderful,” said Stone, who has overseen the Voyager project since the early 1970s.

The two Voyager spacecraft were launched in 1977. Voyager I flew by Jupiter and Saturn, the gravity of which helped slingshot the spacecraft toward the outer reaches of the solar system. Voyager I is now traveling at 38,000 miles per hour relative to the sun.

NASA Voyager.JPEG-0f145

Voyager II flew near Jupiter and Saturn and then went on to pass by Uranus and Neptune. It is not quite as far from the sun as its sister spacecraft.

Although Voyager I is now in interstellar space, it hasn’t technically left the solar system. That’s because of the Oort cloud — a region of comets in orbit around the sun.

“We’ll get to the inner edge of the Oort cloud in about 300 years,” Stone said. “Of course the spacecraft will not still be transmitting then.”

The spacecraft draws power from the radioactive decay of Plutonium 238, and Stone thinks the dwindling power supply will force engineers to start turning off instruments in 2020. Voyager I probably will go dark by 2025.

Stone said the spacecraft will pass through the far side of the Oort cloud in about 30,000 years.

An Animated Adaptation of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot.

Thirty-five years ago today, the Voyager 1 launched into space in a quest to explore the outer Solar System and carried with it the Golden Record, an ultimate mixtape of humanity’s sounds that was also a record of how Carl Sagan and Annie Druyan fell in eternal love. There’s hardly a better way to celebrate the Voyager’s legacy than with Sagan’s iconic, timeless, infinitely humbling yet awe-inspiring Pale Blue Dot (public library), based on the photograph of the same title taken by the Voyager 1 in 1990.

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. 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.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Warp Drive May Be More Feasible Than Thought, Scientists Say.

A warp drive to achieve faster-than-light travel — a concept popularized in television’s Star Trek — may not be as unrealistic as once thought, scientists say.

A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light. A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre; however, subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy.

Now physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially bringing the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science.

Warping space-time

An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind.

Meanwhile, the starship itself would stay inside a bubble of flat space-time that wasn’t being warped at all.

“Everything within space is restricted by the speed of light,” explained Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit group of scientists and engineers devoted to pursuing interstellar spaceflight. “But the really cool thing is space-time, the fabric of space, is not limited by the speed of light.”

With this concept, the spacecraft would be able to achieve an effective speed of about 10 times the speed of light, all without breaking the cosmic speed limit.

The only problem is, previous studies estimated the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.

But recently White calculated what would happen if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring. He found in that case, the warp drive could be powered by a mass about the size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977.

Furthermore, if the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required is reduced even more, White found.

“The findings I presented today change it from impractical to plausible and worth further investigation,” White told “The additional energy reduction realized by oscillating the bubble intensity is an interesting conjecture that we will enjoy looking at in the lab.”

Laboratory tests

White and his colleagues have begun experimenting with a mini version of the warp drive in their laboratory.

They set up what they call the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer at the Johnson Space Center, essentially creating a laser interferometer that instigates micro versions of space-time warps.

“We’re trying to see if we can generate a very tiny instance of this in a tabletop experiment, to try to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million,” White said.

He called the project a “humble experiment” compared to what would be needed for a real warp drive, but said it represents a promising first step.

And other scientists stressed that even outlandish-sounding ideas, such as the warp drive, need to be considered if humanity is serious about traveling to other stars.

“If we’re ever going to become a true spacefaring civilization, we’re going to have to think outside the box a little bit, we’re going to have to be a little bit audacious,” Obousy said.

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