A tiny, icy world a billion miles beyond Pluto is getting a New Year’s Day visitor.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is set to fly past a mysterious object nicknamed Ultima Thule (TOO-lee) at 12:33 a.m. Tuesday. It will become the most distant world ever explored by humankind.

The flyby comes 3½ years after New Horizons swung past Pluto and yielded the first close-ups of the dwarf planet.

This time, the drama will unfold 4 billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) from Earth, so far away it will be 10 hours before flight controllers in Laurel, Maryland, know whether the spacecraft survived the close encounter.

Lead scientist Alan Stern said Monday the team has worked years for this moment and now, “it’s happening!!”

FILE - This composite image made available by NASA shows the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed
FILE – This composite image made available by NASA shows the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed “Ultima Thule,” indicated by the crosshairs at center, with stars surrounding it on Aug. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute via AP)
Ring in the new year with the exploration of an even more distant and mysterious world. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will zip past the scrawny, icy space rock nicknamed Ultima Thule just after midnight on Jan. (Dec. 27)
Ring in the new year with the exploration of an even more distant and mysterious world. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will zip past the scrawny, icy space rock nicknamed Ultima Thule just after midnight on Jan. (Dec. 27)

Source: The Associated Press