NASA spacecraft dashes by world beyond Pluto

Photo: AFP

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has survived humanity’s most distant exploration of another world.

Ten hours after the middle-of-the-night encounter 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away, flight controllers in Laurel, Maryland, received word from the spacecraft late Tuesday morning. Cheers erupted at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, home to Mission Control.

An anxious spill-over crowd in a nearby auditorium joined in the loud celebration.

New Horizons zoomed past the small celestial object known as Ultima Thule 3 ½ years after its spectacular brush with Pluto. Scientists say it will take nearly two years for New Horizons to beam back all its observations of Ultima Thule, a full billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto.

At that distance, it takes six hours for the radio signals to reach Earth.

A NASA spacecraft opens the new year at the most distant world ever explored, a billion miles beyond Pluto.

NASA spacecraft zips by most distant world ever studied

A NASA spacecraft on Tuesday flew past the most distant world ever studied by humankind, Ultima Thule, a frozen relic of the early solar system that could reveal how planets formed.

"Go New Horizons!" said lead scientist Alan Stern as a crowd cheered at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland to mark the moment at 12:33 am (0533 GMT) when the New Horizons spacecraft aimed its cameras at the space rock four billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away.

"Never before has a spacecraft explored something so far away."

The spaceship was to collect 900 images over the course of a few seconds as it shaved by at a distance of about 2,000 miles (3,500 kilometers).

"Now it is just a matter of time to see the data coming down," said deputy project scientist John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute.

Scientists expect to learn whether the pass was successful around 10 am (1500 GMT).

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