Queen's Brian May on New Year mission to NASA

Queen's Brian May on New Year mission to NASA

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, New Horizons team members discovered 2014 MU69 in the path of the spacecraft which was selected as the next mission target.

The probe reached the closest point of its flyby at 05:33 British time on New Year's Day, passing Thule at more than 30,000 miles per hour and coming within 2,200 miles of the surface of the 19 mile-wide object.

"It was Alan Stern, the project instigator of this awesome Nasa mission, who threw down the glove last May".

The U.S. space agency will ring in the New Year with a live online broadcast to mark the historic flyby of the mysterious object in a dark and frigid region of space known as the Kuiper Belt at 12:33 a.m. January 1 (0533 GMT Tuesday).

Flight controllers say everything looked good for New Horizons' flyby of the tiny, icy object at 12:33 a.m. Tuesday, 3 ½ years after its encounter with Pluto.

Scientists define the Kuiper Belts as a big zone of icy bodies and mysterious small objects orbiting beyond Neptune.

But until it came into New Horizons' view, Ultima remained little more than a distant dot hardly different from the stars behind it.

A version of the image with superimposed lines shows where stars blinked out as they passed behind Ultima Thule, and two red circles indicate how Ultima Thule would be oriented if it is really a pair of objects.

The image was captured at 11:56 a.m. ET on Sunday, when the probe was still 1.2 million miles away from Ultima Thule ("Ul-ti-ma Too-lee"), which is within an icy region of the solar system known as the Kuiper Belt.

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Several gigabytes' worth of imagery and data from the flyby will be stored in New Horizons' solid-state memory banks, and transmitted back to Earth over the course of 20 months.

But even as the world awaits news from the far reaches of the solar system, New Horizons has once again made it to the history books.

Its destination, Ultima Thule, "is 17,000 times as far away as the "giant leap" of Apollo's lunar missions", he added, recalling that December 1968 marks the 50th anniversary of the first time humans ever explored another world, when USA astronauts orbited the Moon aboard Apollo 8.

"Even less than a day away, Ultima Thule remains an enigma to us, but the final countdown has begun", said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Interested in NASA? Add NASA as an interest to stay up to date on the latest NASA news, video, and analysis from ABC News. It takes Ultima Thule 298 years to orbit the sun. Even clearer images should arrive over the next three days.

If New Horizons sounds familiar, it's because this is the spacecraft that conducted a historic flyby of Pluto in 2015, sending back unprecedented images of the dwarf planet and revealing new details about Pluto and its moons.

After that flyby, Stern and his colleagues set about searching for a new target in the Kuiper Belt, which extends from the edge of Neptune's orbit out to about 5 billion miles from the sun.

"There's a lot of chatter in the science team room", Spencer said.

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