NASA's New Horizons spacecraft notched a second triumph in its belt, passing close by a second object two-and-a-half years since it passed Pluto. At 12:33 am ET on New Year's morning, the spacecraft passed Ultima Thule, a Manhattan-sized rock a billion miles farther out and essentially straight ahead from its Pluto passage in 2015.
A thousand cheering scientists and families awaited confirmation at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, that the spacecraft survived and recorded data.
Though the closest point of the flyby, only 2,200 miles above Ultima Thule's surface, occurred just after midnight, the spacecraft was pointed at the object for a few more hours with its antenna, rigidly locked to the spacecraft body, pointing away from Earth. And once the spacecraft rotated to send a burst of housekeeping data back to NASA's Deep Space Network radio telescope in Madrid, the signal then took 6 hours and 7 minutes at the speed of light to reach Earth.