NASA spacecraft dashes by world beyond Pluto

An artist's illustration of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft as it flies by Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto on Jan. 1 2019

An artist's illustration of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft as it flies by Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto on Jan. 1 2019

The space object is actually called (486958) 2014 MU69 and is believed to have formed more than four billion years ago during the very beginning of our solar system's history, so is a relic of a bygone age which could help scientist unravel the mystery of how all the planets formed.

Artist's impression of New Horizons encountering a Pluto-like object in the distant Kuiper Belt. Now, the Kuiper Belt is thought to include millions of icy objects, unused planetary building blocks left over from the earliest days of the solar system. The flyby Ultima Thule can be watched on NASA TV YouTube channel, where there'll be a discussion about the flyby and the live stream of the signal captured by NASA.

Hundreds of well-wishers took part in a different kind of New Year's countdown, 33 minutes past midnight, to celebrate the moment when NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew past an icy object known as Ultima Thule, more than 4 billion miles away. Clearer pictures are not expected for hours given the vast distance (bottom right the spacecraft's path).

He said: "We've looked pretty hard for hazards and we haven't seen anything to be concerned about, so we are sticking with our primary trajectory".

The almost circular orbit of Ultima Thule indicates it originated at its current distance from the Sun.

"The Voyagers and Pioneers flew through the Kuiper Belt at a time when we didn't know this region existed", Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said in a statement.

Until Sunday, the remote body located more than a billion and a half kilometres beyond Pluto, appeared as no more than a single pixel in the spacecraft's camera.

He described the New Horizons spaceship as an "amazing piece of American workmanship, operating essentially flawlessly in space for well over a decade".

When the spacecraft arrives, it will turn a suite of instruments onto the mysterious object, and many of its mysteries will be unveiled.

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Ultima Thule was unknown until 2014, eight years after New Horizons departed Earth.

May, who has a doctorate in astrophysics, and is a New Horizons science collaborator, will be present at the New Horizons Maryland, Washington County, base of operations on New Year's Day to witness the historic final approach as it happens.

"We'll get to the bottom of this puzzle soon", Dr. Alan Stern, principle investigator of the New Horizons mission, told Digital Trends.

The New Horizons spacecraft accomplished its primary mission on July 14, 2015, when it performed the first close encounter of Pluto. And then you travel about a billion miles more.

Brian has been "teasing" fragments of the track with specially adapted "New Horizons" video clips on his Instagram and Twitter feeds, as well on Brian's well-known "Bri's Soapbox" at BrianMay.com.

But New Horizons' performance so far suggests it is ready for the challenge, Stern said. It was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope and added to the spacecraft's itinerary.

Scientists are hopeful New Horizons will capture the real thing.

"We're rendezvousing with something that's a mountain draped in black velvet in nearly pitch dark conditions and we're screaming up to it ... within 2 seconds of perfection", Stern said.

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