NASA's New Horizons spacecraft signals from most distant object ever visited

The full scope of observations made by New Horizons will take nearly 2 years to beam back to Earth because it traveled so far.

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By Elisha Fieldstadt

A NASA spacecraft on New Year's Day flew by an object farther than any spacecraft has before — 4 billion miles from Earth.

NASA received a signal from the New Horizons spacecraft Tuesday morning that it had reached a small space object known as Ultima Thule 10 hours earlier.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft went past Ultima Thule, an icy Kuiper Belt object about 4 billion miles from Earth, in the first hour of 2019.NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Team members gathered at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, home to Mission Control, cheer upon receiving the signal, which took so long to reach them because the small, icy object is 4 billion miles from the Earth and 1 billion miles from Pluto.

The full scope of observations made by New Horizons will take nearly two years to beam back to Earth.

The spacecraft provided the first close-up images of Pluto about 3 1/2 years ago when it traveled past the dwarf planet.

New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, center, celebrates with school children when the New Horizons spacecraft approached Ultima Thule on New Year's Day.Bill Ingalls / NASA via AP

In honor of the spacecraft's latest endeavor, Queen guitarist Brian May, who is also an astrophysicist, debuted a song at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory that he wrote for the event.

Associated Press contributed.