NASA’s unmanned spacecraft New Horizons completed its close flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto at 1219 GMT on Tuesday, according to the agency’s calculations.
“This is truly a hallmark in human history,” NASA's science mission chief John Grunsfeld said.
After completing an unprecedented journey of more than nine years and 4.8 billion kilometres, the spacecraft passed within less than 8,000 kilometres of Pluto.
The official confirmation signal of the flyby with a speed of 58,000 kilometres per hour is expected to arrive at the Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC) at Canberra, Australia 13 hours later on Tuesday.
“It's very exciting because we have never ever visited Pluto, either by robots or man missions because it is so far away,” CDSCC Director Ed Kruzins told Reuters.
Each piece of data that New Horizons gathered during its 30 minutes of close-up observation of Pluto will be transmitted in four and a half hour periods over 15 months.
New Horizons confirmed that Pluto is the largest object in the Kuiper Belt, also known as the third zone, following the solar system’s inner rocky planets and outer gaseous planets.
This zone is also home to two other dwarf planets, Haumea and Makemake, along with many asteroids and frozen substances such as ammonia, methane and water.
The NASA spacecraft will continue its journey into the Kuiper Belt before heading out of the solar system like the Voyager missions before it.