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Nasa spacecraft ‘phones home’ after far-flung flyby

Nasa scientists were celebrating after a spacecraft “phoned home” to confirm it had successfully performed the most distant space flyby in history in the early hours of New Year’s Day.

Thousands of photographs of the dark, icy space rock called Ultima Thule were snapped by the New Horizons probe as it barrelled past it on the outer edge of the solar system at 05.33 Irish time.

Ultima Thule lies 4 billion miles from Earth in the Kuiper belt, a band of dwarf planets, space rocks and icy debris left over from the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago. Because of the distance, scientists had to wait 10 hours to learn whether the flyby had been successful.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Hal Weaver, a research professor at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and a project scientist on the New Horizons mission. “This is another great step in the exploration of our solar system.”


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