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New Horizons Spacecraft Will Take a "Pale Blue Dot" Photo in 2019

Accepted submission by takyon at 2018-02-13 23:54:22

Recently, the New Horizons [] spacecraft took the furthest images ever made [] from Earth. But they weren't of Earth. That could change in 2019 []:

Sometime after January 2019, New Horizons, the spacecraft that brought us photos of the heart-shaped terrain on Pluto [], will turn back toward Earth. The probe's camera, the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager, or LORRI for short, will start snapping away. Nearly three decades after the original, humanity will get another "Pale Blue Dot."

"We've been talking about it for years," says Andy Cheng of the plan to take another 'Pale Blue Dot' image. Cheng is a scientist at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory and the principal investigator for LORRI.

It's a risky move. The attempt requires pointing LORRI close enough to the sun so that objects in the darkness are illuminated, but not so close that sunlight damages or destroys the camera. "But we're going to do it anyway, for the same reason as before," Cheng says. "It's just such a great thing to try."

The photo shoot will take considerable coordination. "All activities on the spacecraft need to be choreographed in elaborate detail and then checked and checked again," Cheng says. "Taking a LORRI image involves more than just LORRI—the spacecraft needs to point the camera in the right direction, lorri needs to be operated, the image data needs to be put in the right place and then accessed and transmitted to Earth, which requires more maneuvers of the spacecraft, all of which needs to happen on a spacecraft almost 4 billion miles away."

New Horizons will fly by 2014 MU69 [] on January 1, 2019. It will take about 18 months to send back all the data from the flyby.

Related: Occultations of New Horizons' Next Target (2014 MU69) Observed []
New Horizons Target 2014 MU69 May be a "Contact Binary" []

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