Nasa horizon
An artist's impression of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, currently en route to Pluto, is shown in this handout image provided by NASA/JHUAPL. Image Credit: Reuters

TAMPA: An unmanned NASA spacecraft sent a signal back to Earth Tuesday that it successfully made it through a risky flyby past the most distant planetary object ever studied, the US space agency said.

"We have a healthy spacecraft," said Alice Bowman, missions operations manager for the New Horizons spacecraft, which zipped by Ultima Thule at 12:33 am (0533 GMT) on New Year's Day.

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"We have just accomplished the most distant flyby," she said.

'Phone home'

The "phone home" signals took about 10 hours to reach Earth following the flyby, which took place four billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away.

10hours

the time to took for signals from the NASA spacecraft New Horizons to reach Earth following the flyby, 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) away.

Images and data will start arriving later Tuesday, "science to help us understand the origins of our solar system," Bowman said.

The 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 12.33am (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 10am (1500 GMT).