Live Updates on the New Horizons Flyby of Ultima Thule

NASA's New Horizons to make history with far-out visit to Ultima Thule

Cheers erupted in the control centre and in a nearby auditorium, where hundreds more - still tired from the double countdowns on New Year's Eve - gathered to await word.

Stern, Bowman and other key players soon joined their friends in the auditorium, where the celebration continued and a news conference took place.

New Horizons - the size of a baby grand piano - was expected to hurtle to within 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) of Ultima Thule, considerably closer than the Pluto encounter of 2015.

After its flyby of Ultima Thule, New Horizons will continue its mission until at least April 2021, studying the environment and inhabitants of the Kuiper Belt, the most distant and mysterious zone of the solar system. Even though this data travelled at close to the speed of light, it took around 10 hours for the first batches of data to be received by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, due to the vast distance between Ultima and Earth.

On New Year's Day, NASA's New Horizons probe made history when it successfully flew past the furthest object from Earth ever to be visited by a spacecraft-Ultima Thule.

"We've just accomplished the most distant flyby", mission operations manager Alice Bowman said. Scientists will not have confirmation of its successful arrival until the probe communicates its whereabouts through NASA's Deep Space Network at 10.28am Eastern, about 10 hours later.

"Reaching Ultima Thule from 4 billion miles away is an incredible achievement", Adam Hamilton, president and CEO of the Southwest Research Institute, said in the statement.

Scientists wanted New Horizons observing Ultima Thule during the encounter, not phoning home.

Artist conception of New Horizons Spacecraft. Instead, hundreds of team members and their guests gathered nearby on campus for back-to-back countdowns.

Brian May, the guitarist for the legendary rock band Queen and an astrophysicist, is also a participating scientist in the New Horizons mission.

"New Horizons performed as planned today, conducting the farthest exploration of any world in history", said principal investigator Alan Stern of the New Horizons team.

It takes roughly six hours for radio signals to reach Earth and it will take 20 months for New Horizons to send all of its flyby data.

This flyby is the first exploration of a small Kuiper Belt object up close - and the most primitive world ever observed by a spacecraft.

Yesterday, on the very edge of our solar system, its mission reached its climax when the New Horizons probe hurtled past a mass of rock that has drifted undisturbed for four billion years.

"I don't know about all of you, but I'm really liking this 2019 thing so far", lead scientist Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute said to applause.

Initial flyby data has also revealed our first discovery about Ultima Thule, showing that it is spinning like a propeller, with its axis pointing approximately towards New Horizons.

Scientists believe there should be no rings or moons around Ultima Thule that might endanger New Horizons. "The New Horizons team makes it look easy".

That better data won't take long to start turning up.

The small body is known as a "cold classical" Kuiper Belt object, or KBO, meaning it is a pristine sample of that original material, circling the sun in a circular, flat orbit that indicates it has not been jostled or otherwise disturbed since the solar system's birth. "We will find out".

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