NASA rang in the new year on Tuesday with historic flying to the farthest and most likely the oldest cosmic body ever explored by humanity – a tiny, distant world called Ultima Thule – in the hope of learning more about how the planetary form.
A series of nervous anticipated signals "home phone" arrived after 10:30 (1530 GMT), suggesting that the spacecraft did this, unchanged, through a risky, high-speed encounter.
"We have a healthy spacecraft," mission manager Alice Bowman said, as they erupted into control rooms at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland.
About 10 hours earlier, NASA celebrated the New Year's flying since mission managers – along with children dressed in space costumes – stifled horns at parties to mark the moment at 12:33 am (0533 GMT) when the spaceship "New Horizons" directs its cameras to a space rock of 6.4 billion kilometers in a gloomy and frigid region of space beyond Pluto known as the Kuiper Belt.
Real-time real-time video is impossible, because a signal sent from Earth to reach the spaceship, called New Horizons, takes more than six hours, and another six hours for the answer to arrive.
Images and data will begin to arrive later on Tuesday, offering scientists a first glimpse of the ancient building block of planets, Bauman said.
The plane was about 1.6 billion kilometers above Pluto, which until then was the farthest world ever in the vicinity of the spacecraft.
The real-time real-time video was impossible, because it takes more than six hours for a signal sent from Earth to reach the spaceship, and another six hours to reach the answer.
Flying through the universe at a speed of 51,000 kilometers per hour, the spacecraft made its closest approach in 3540 kilometers from the surface of Ultima Tule.
"This is one night that none of us will forget," said Queen guitarist Brian May, who also has an advanced degree in astrophysics – and who recorded a solo song to honor the spacecraft and its spirit of research.
Alan Stern, a leading planetary scientist in the New Horizons mission, told reporters that Ultima Thule is unique because it is a remnant of the early days of the solar system and can give answers to the origins of other planets.
"The subject is in such a deep freeze that is perfectly preserved from its original formation," he said.
"Everything we learn about Ultima – from its composition to its geology to how it was originally assembled, whether it has satellites and atmosphere and such things – will teach us about the initial conditions of formation of objects in a solar system."
Scientists are not sure what the Ultima Thule (expressed TOO-lee) looks like – whether it is cratered or smooth, or even if it is a single object or cluster.
It was discovered in 2014 with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope and is believed to be about 30 kilometers in size.
The obscure and pixelized image published on Monday, taken nearly two million kilometers, has intrigued scientists, as it seems that there is an elongated hole, not circular space rocks.
The space ship was to collect 900 images over a few seconds while shaving. Even clearer images should arrive over the next three days.
"Now it's only a matter of time to see the data that follows," said deputy researcher John Spencer at the Southwest Research Institute.
Scientists decided to study Ultima Thule with New Horizons after the spaceship, which began in 2006, completed its main mission of flying by Pluto in 2015, returning the farthest images ever taken from the dwarf planet.
Stern said that the goal is to make pictures of Ultima, which are three times larger than the team's resolution for Pluto.
Ultima Thule is named for the mythical, far north island in medieval literature and cartography, according to NASA.
Project scientist Hal Waver of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory said that people did not even know the Kuiper Belt – a huge ring of relics from the formed days of the solar system – existed until the 1990s.
"This is the boundary of planetary science," said Mr. Weaver.
Another NASA spacecraft, OSIRIS-Rex, also set a new record on Monday with an orbit around the asteroid Bennu, the smallest cosmic object – about 500 meters in diameter – ever circled by the spacecraft.
NASA has said that an orbit about 110 million kilometers is a "jump for mankind," since no spacecraft has ever "circled so close to such a small space object – the one with barely enough gravity to keep the vehicle in a stable orbit." feats that coincided with the 50th anniversary of the first time people have ever explored another world when US astronauts orbited the moon of Apollo 8 in December 1968.
"While celebrating New Year's Day, think up and think about the incredible things our country and our species can do when we put our mind in," Stern wrote in New York Times on Monday.