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NASA's New Horizons travels 4.3 billion miles to perform the first 'parallax' experiment

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A galaxy far, far away! NASA’s New Horizons travels 4.3 billion miles to perform the first interstellar ‘parallax’ experiment that shows stars are positioned differently in space than when viewed from Earth

  • NASA’s New Horizons performed the first  interstellar ‘parallax’ experiment
  • It snapped images 4.3 billion miles from Earth of Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359
  • Due to the distance from Earth, the stars appeared to be in different positions 
  • The feat will help astronomers determine location of stars and their distance 

NASA’s New Horizons was the first to closely explore Pluto and now the spacecraft has ventured deeper into space to snap images of ‘an alien sky.’

The craft traveled more than four billion miles from Earth, capturing views of the stars that are position differently when observed from our planet.

The images show nearby stars to Pluto, Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359, sitting in different parts of the sky than what astronomers have witnessed.

Due to the distance between the craft and its home, it was able to successfully perform the first interstellar ‘parallax’ experiment – how a star appears to shift against its background when seen from different locations.

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The images show nearby stars to Pluto, Proxima Centauri (blue) and Wolf 359 (red), sitting in different parts of the sky than what astronomers have witnessed. The left image was taken by New Horizons and the right was snapped from Earth

The images show nearby stars to Pluto, Proxima Centauri (blue) and Wolf 359 (red), sitting in different parts of the sky than what astronomers have witnessed. The left image was taken by New Horizons and the right was snapped from Earth

Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), said: ‘It’s fair to say that New Horizons is looking at an alien sky, unlike what we see from Earth.’

‘And 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.’

From April 22 through 23, the team turned New Horizon’s long-range telescope camera to the closets stars, which are Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359.

During this time, the craft was some 4.3 billion miles from Earth, which allowed for the parallax effect to occur. 

NASA explains that parallex effect: When you hold your finger at arm's length and you see it jump back by closing one eye and then switching to the other. This results in the position of your finger slightly shifted because the viewing angle has changed. The left image shows Proxima Centauri taken  by New Horizons and right is how it is seen from Earth

NASA explains that parallex effect: When you hold your finger at arm’s length and you see it jump back by closing one eye and then switching to the other. This results in the position of your finger slightly shifted because the viewing angle has changed. The left image shows Proxima Centauri taken  by New Horizons and right is how it is seen from Earth 

NASA explains that when you hold your finger at arm’s length and you see it jump back by closing one eye and then switching to the other.

This results in the position of your finger slightly shifted because the viewing angle has changed.

‘No human eye can detect these shifts,’ Stern said.

The success of the parallax experiment will now help scientists measure the distanced of stars and identify where they are located in space – the team just needs to compare New Horizon’s images with those snapped on Earth.

Tod Lauer, New Horizons science team member who coordinated the parallax demonstration, said: ‘The New Horizons experiment provides the largest parallax baseline ever made — over 4 billion miles — and is the first demonstration of an easily observable stellar parallax.’

The success of the parallax experiment will now help scientists measure the distanced of stars and identify where they are located in space – the team just needs to compare New Horizon's images with those snapped on Earth

The success of the parallax experiment will now help scientists measure the distanced of stars and identify where they are located in space – the team just needs to compare New Horizon’s images with those snapped on Earth

Queen guitarist and stereo imaging enthusiast Brian May created the images that clearly show the effect of the vast distance between Earth and the two nearby stars.

‘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!’

In 2015, New Horizons flew past Pluto at 7:49 a.m. ET, capturing history's first close look at the distant world

In 2015, New Horizons flew past Pluto at 7:49 a.m. ET, capturing history’s first close look at the distant world

In 2015, New Horizons flew past Pluto at 7:49 a.m. ET, capturing history’s first close look at the distant world.

During its closest approach, the spacecraft came to within 7,800 miles (of Pluto’s icy surface, travelling at 30,800 mph.

The image revealed a copper-colored world, covered with extremely dark patches and a bright, heart-shaped region.

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