NASA’s spacecraft New Horizons that is situated more than 4.3 billion miles away from Earth, has sent back pictures of the sky showing some stars in different positions than what is observed from our planet.
According to a CNN report, this is the first time that this kind of a ‘parallax effect’ has been captured using a spacecraft.
According to NASA’s Alan Stern, who is the New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, the spacecraft is looking at previously unseen sky, which is unlike what can be viewed from Earth.
Stern added, “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.”
On 22/23 April, the spacecraft observed how Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359 appear in different positions than when observed from Earth, as per a NASA release. As the Earth makes it way around the Sun, the stars shift their positions, but since even the nearest stars are “hundreds of thousands of times farther away than the diameter of Earth’s orbit, the parallax shifts are tiny, and can only be measured with precise instrumentation.”
However, when New Horizons images are paired with pictures of the same stars taken on the same dates by telescopes on Earth, the parallax shift is instantly visible.
A report in SciTech Daily quoted Tod Lauer, New Horizons science team member from the National Science Foundation’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory as saying that the New Horizons experiment provides the largest parallax baseline ever carried out – over 4 billion miles apart. Lauer coordinated the parallax demonstration.
The report further quoted Kenneth Hansen, New Horizons program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, as saying, “The New Horizons spacecraft is truly a mission of firsts, and this demonstration of stellar parallax is no different.”