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Before mission controllers could be certain New Horizons succeeded, the spacecraft had to pause its data gathering and rotate to point its main antenna back toward home.

New Horizons arrived three-and-a half years after it had flown past Pluto and 13 years after the craft, the size of a minivan, first left Earth.

Its New Horizons spacecraft has survived the most distant exploration of another world - a tiny, icy object almost six and a half billion kilometers away from Earth. However, it will take hours for the spacecraft to communicate its status with Earth and beam back the first images of the unexplored object.

NASA rang in the New Year with jubilation after receiving confirmation that the New Horizons spacecraft completed a successful flyby Tuesday of the most distant object ever explored in space. "We've just accomplished the most distant flyby", announced Alice Bowman, mission operations manager. The team delayed the transmission so it didn't interfere with any observations so it was a full ten hours later before the probe could confirm that the mission was a success. The Ultima Thule rendezvous was more complicated, given its 4 billion-mile (6.4 billion-kilometre) distance from Earth, the much closer gap between the spacecraft and its target, and all the unknowns surrounding Ultima Thule.

Fans will have to wait for more scientific data and a close-up image of Ultima Thule, which isn't expected to be released until 9 p.m. EST tonight.

"We are straining the capabilities of this spacecraft, and by tomorrow we'll know how we did", Stern told reporters on Monday.

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LAUREL, MARYLAND-Cheers erupted just after 10:30 AM Eastern this morning in a small control room at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) here. Instead, hundreds of team members and their guests gathered nearby on campus for back-to-back countdowns.

Queen guitarist Brian May, who also happens to be an astrophysicist, joined the team at Johns Hopkins for a midnight premiere of the rock "n" roll song he wrote for the big event.

The icy rock has been in a deep-freeze preservation state since the formation of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

The twin planetary feats coincided with the 50th anniversary of the first time humans ever explored another world, when USA astronauts orbited the Moon aboard Apollo 8 in December 1968.

The New Horizons, launched in 2006, conducted a six-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons in summer 2015.

Lead planetary scientist for New Horizons, Alan Stern, said Ultima Thule is unique because it is a relic from the early days of the solar system and could provide answers about the origins of other planets.

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New Horizons sweeps past Ultima Thule - described as a bullet intersecting with another bullet (computer simulation).

The image revealed that the object appears to have a bowling pin-like shape, elongated and spinning like a propeller.

In 2014, astronomers found Thule using the Hubble Space Telescope and the following year selected it for New Horizon's extended mission.

Analysis of the pics snapped by New Horizons suggest this isn't the case.

Ultima Thule - which means "beyond the known world" - is located in the Kuiper belt in the outermost regions of the solar system, beyond the orbit of Neptune.

We do know that Ultima Thule has a reddish colour, probably caused by exposure of hydrocarbons to sunlight over billions of years.

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