NASA now has proof that its New Horizons probe completed its record-setting flyby of the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule. The mission team confirmed the flypast at 10:31AM Eastern Time after receiving telemetry data indicating that the spacecraft was “healthy.” It technically flew past Ultima Thule at about 12:33AM , but the combination of data collection and the six-hour signal travel time left the New Horizons crew waiting until much later to receive the A-OK from their pride and joy.
Scientific data won’t arrive until sometime around 200 UTC on January 2nd (9PM ET on January 1st). You’ll have to wait a while for an up-close snapshot, then.
The confirmation isn’t just a relief for the New Horizons team. This marks the farthest-ever flyby in human history — at about 4 billion miles from the Sun, Ultima Thule makes Pluto seem like a next-door neighbor by comparison. It also promises a raft of potential scientific insights, including clues to the formation of dwarf planets. Some of those discoveries may take a long time, but they’ll be worthwhile if they shed light on the Solar System and the cosmos at large.