NASA spacecraft sends back images of stars from 4.3 billion miles away

From its unique vantage point 4.3 billion miles from Earth, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has captured images of nearby stars — and the stars appear to be...

Posted: Jun 16, 2020 7:37 AM

From its unique vantage point 4.3 billion miles from Earth, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has captured images of nearby stars — and the stars appear to be in different positions than where we see them from Earth.

This is the first time this kind of "parallax effect" has been captured using a spacecraft. You can mimic this by holding a finger about an arm's length from your face and see how it appears to jump when you close your left or right eye, according to a release by NASA.

"It's fair to say that New Horizons is looking at an alien sky, unlike what we see from Earth," said planetary scientist Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, in a statement.

"That has allowed us to do something that had never been accomplished before — to see the nearest stars visibly displaced on the sky from the positions we see them on Earth."

New Horizons is on a course to interstellar space, much like the Voyager probes. It previously flew by Pluto and its moons in 2015 before conducting a flyby of the distant Kuiper Belt object, known as Arrokoth, in January 2019.

In April, at a distance of 4.3 billion miles from Earth, New Horizons aimed its long-range telescopic camera to nearby stars Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359. They are still 4.2 and 7.795 light-years away from us, respectively.

Stereoscopic milestone

The stars appeared to be in different locations through the parallax effect, meaning that the stars seemed to shift against the background since New Horizons was viewing it from a different view point. Scientists use the parallax effect to measure the distances to stars.

Stars, including our sun, are always moving. But we're so far away from these stars and they move over such large time scales that it's difficult to see this motion.

"No human eye can detect these shifts," Stern said.

However, the images captured by New Horizons could be compared to images taken on the same days by Earth-based telescopes, which made the shift obvious.

Images from the ground were captured by Las Cumbres Observatory scientists remotely operating a telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia and astronomers operating a remote telescope at the Mount Lemmon Observatory in Arizona.

"The professional and amateur astronomy communities had been waiting to try this, and were very excited to make a little space exploration history," New Horizons science team member Tod Lauer said.

New Horizons sent the images it captured back to Earth via radio signal. The signal traveled at the speed of light and reached Earth about six and a half hours later.

"The New Horizons spacecraft is truly a mission of firsts, and this demonstration of stellar parallax is no different," said Kenneth Hansen, New Horizons program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, in a statement. "The New Horizons spacecraft continues to speed away from Earth toward interstellar space and is continuing to return exciting new data for planetary science."

The images were created by New Horizons' Lauer, New Horizons Deputy Project Scientist John Spencer and astrophysicist, team collaborator and Queen guitarist Brian May.

"It could be argued that in astro-stereoscopy — 3D images of astronomical objects — NASA's New Horizons team already leads the field, having delivered astounding stereoscopic images of both Pluto and the remote Kuiper Belt object Arrokoth," May said.

"But the latest New Horizons stereoscopic experiment breaks all records. These photographs of Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359 — stars that are well-known to amateur astronomers and science fiction aficionados alike — employ the largest distance between viewpoints ever achieved in 180 years of stereoscopy!"

Huntsville
Few Clouds
86° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 88°
Florence
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 86°
Fayetteville
Scattered Clouds
79° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 82°
Decatur
Broken Clouds
84° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 86°
Scottsboro
Few Clouds
81° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 87°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 91776

Reported Deaths: 1639
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson12039228
Mobile9170197
Montgomery6305147
Madison508227
Tuscaloosa398466
Baldwin326323
Shelby307532
Marshall298433
Unassigned281255
Lee251940
Morgan224315
Etowah195728
DeKalb171813
Elmore162637
Calhoun159012
Walker147464
Houston132712
Dallas129423
Russell12471
St. Clair123612
Limestone120813
Franklin120620
Cullman115711
Colbert110712
Lauderdale109512
Autauga103020
Escambia97915
Talladega92713
Jackson8704
Chambers82838
Tallapoosa82278
Dale78722
Butler75135
Blount7413
Chilton7226
Coffee7165
Covington71520
Pike6607
Barbour5635
Lowndes55824
Marion54724
Marengo52614
Clarke4879
Hale45726
Bullock44111
Winston43211
Perry4314
Wilcox4089
Monroe3954
Randolph39110
Bibb3813
Conecuh37210
Pickens3719
Sumter35918
Lawrence3240
Washington31412
Macon31113
Crenshaw2973
Choctaw27612
Cherokee2477
Henry2463
Greene24511
Geneva2420
Clay2235
Lamar2032
Fayette1765
Cleburne1211
Coosa922
Out of AL00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 112441

Reported Deaths: 1117
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby21728293
Davidson19563205
Rutherford615553
Hamilton572047
Knox410837
Williamson330822
Sumner321970
Unassigned29575
Out of TN278914
Wilson210222
Sevier17565
Montgomery175212
Bradley173910
Putnam160113
Trousdale15766
Robertson145919
Hamblen129713
Blount11817
Tipton11239
Maury10897
Washington10892
Madison92913
Bedford87711
Macon84113
Sullivan8339
Hardeman83011
Lake7560
Loudon6823
Bledsoe6741
Fayette6428
Anderson6307
Dickson6091
Gibson5902
Dyer5687
Cheatham5486
Rhea5111
Jefferson5083
McMinn49320
Lawrence4916
Henderson4690
Obion4534
Lauderdale4386
Carter4335
Warren4294
Coffee4212
Cocke4121
Hardin4097
Haywood4025
Roane3922
Cumberland3856
Smith3843
Monroe3779
Greene3765
Hawkins3694
Giles35410
McNairy3245
DeKalb3221
Weakley3103
Franklin2864
Marshall2662
Lincoln2551
Carroll2443
Crockett2364
Claiborne2350
Hickman2330
Henry2250
Campbell2211
Wayne2191
Marion2094
White2053
Chester1962
Grainger1790
Polk1793
Johnson1770
Decatur1692
Overton1391
Unicoi1390
Union1290
Cannon1260
Humphreys1093
Benton1081
Jackson1081
Scott1050
Grundy1022
Meigs990
Sequatchie960
Morgan911
Fentress760
Hancock761
Perry740
Stewart700
Clay640
Lewis581
Houston540
Moore440
Van Buren330
Pickett251

Community Events