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

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft notched a second triumph in its belt, passing close by a second object two-and-a-half years since it passed Pluto.

"We're off to New Horizons so hold on to the wheel", he sings in the rare solo song, which was first played as the craft passed Ultima Thule - an object a billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto, last night.

NASA's New Horizons explorer has successfully "phoned home" after a journey to the most distant world ever explored by humankind, a frozen rock at the edge of the solar system that scientists hope will uncover secrets to its creation.

Alice Bowman, the New Horizons Mission Operations Manager, known as "MOM" received the updates from mission engineers, who one by one called in their status as green.

Scientists did not want to interrupt observations as New Horizons swept past Ultima Thule - described as a bullet intersecting with another bullet - so they delayed radio transmissions.

New Horizons spacecraft as it approaches Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, in July 2015. Instead, hundreds of team members and their guests gathered nearby on campus for back-to-back countdowns.

"New Horizons performed as planned today, conducting the farthest exploration of any world in history - 4 billion miles from the Sun", Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement.

According to mission details published by NASA, New Horizons was scheduled to complete the flyby at around 11am IST on Tuesday.

'I was inspired by the idea that this is the furthest that the Hand of Man has ever reached - it will be by far the most distant object we have ever seen at close quarters, through the images which the space craft will beam back to Earth.

The new year has started with a record-setting space mission by NASA.

This time, the drama will unfold 4 billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) from Earth, so far away it will be 10 hours before flight controllers in Laurel, Maryland, know whether the spacecraft survived the close encounter.

"It's the first glimpse of what's going to get rapidly better from here on - it's our first taste", Spencer said.

New Horizons sweeps past Ultima Thule - described as a bullet intersecting with another bullet (computer simulation).

For Ultima Thule - which wasn't even known when New Horizons departed Earth in 2006 - the endeavour was more hard.

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.

But a new, though still blurry image released Tuesday showed its oblong shape resembles something like a bowling pin or a peanut, and its dimensions are about 22 miles long and nine miles wide (35 by 15 kilometers).

The exact shape and composition won't be known until Ultima Thule starts sending back data in a process expected to last nearly two years.

Ultima Thule - which means "beyond the known world" - is located in the Kuiper belt in the outermost regions of the solar system, beyond the orbit of Neptune.

"Who knows what we might find?. This is exploration at its finest", said Adam L. Hamilton, president and CEO of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.


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