NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has officially conducted its first interstellar parallax experiment. NASA says this is the first time a spacecraft has sent images of the sky back to Earth from such a faraway location that the star looks different from where we see it on Earth. New Horizons is currently 4 billion miles from Earth and is heading toward interstellar space.
New Horizons has come so far that it has a unique view of nearby stars. The researchers say the spacecraft is looking at an extraterrestrial sky, unlike what we see on Earth. The stars in the images sent back by the spacecraft have a significant displacement from where we see on Earth.
On April 22 and 23, the spacecraft aimed its long-range telescope camera at the nearest star, the Half-Man and The Wolf 359. These images have shown stars appearing in different places from Earth observations, and the researchers used this parallax effect, which measures the distance between the star and the background when viewed from different locations.
One easy way for people to understand the effects of parallax is to place your finger in your arm and see if it’s moving when you look at it with one eye at the same time, the researchers said. The New Horizons image is superimposed with images of the same star taken by telescopes on Earth on the same date, and the change in position is immediate.
At the time of observation, New Horizons was more than 4.3 billion miles from Earth. Radio signals travel at the speed of light and take less than six hours and 30 minutes to reach Earth. Launched in 2006, New Horizons will eventually leave the solar system and travel to the stars with the Voyager and Vanguard spacecraft.