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New Horizons does a far-out parallax experiment

Brian May with OWL viewer
Queen guitarist (and astrophysicist) Brian May, a member of the New Horizons science team, uses his patented OWL viewer to check out the stereo images of Proxima Centauri that he created by combining pictures from Earth-based telescopes and the New Horizons spacecraft. (Photo courtesy of Brian May, via New Horizons / JHUAPL / SwRI / NASA)

NASA’s New Horizons probe has measured the distance to nearby stars using a technique that’s as old as the ancient mariners, but from a vantage point those mariners could only dream of.

The experiment, conducted on April 22-23 as the spacecraft zoomed 4.3 billion miles out from Earth, produced the farthest-out parallax observations ever made.

“It’s fair to say that New Horizons is looking at an alien sky, unlike what we see from Earth,” principal investigator Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, said today in a news release. “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.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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