"I've said it a number of times, I think New Horizons is an example - one of the best examples in our time - of raw exploration, and the term Ultima Thule, which is very old, many centuries old, possibly over a thousand years old, is a wonderful meme for exploration", Stern said.
He added: "These are the only remaining basic building blocks in the back yard of the solar system that we can see that everything else that we live on, or receive through our telescopes, or visit with our spacecraft, were formed from".
Scientists are keen to study Ultima Thule as it lives in a region that has been relatively untouched since the formation of the solar system, which in turn helps them better understand planetary formation.
The object has two lobes, with the larger one now taking the name Ultima and the smaller becoming Thule. This explains why, in earlier images taken before Ultima was resolved, its brightness didn't appear to vary as it rotated.
Included in this will be a series of much higher-resolution images that will provide an even greater look at Ultima Thule, now the farthest object from Earth to ever be photographed by a spacecraft.
New Horizons will get even more up close and personal with Ultima soon - as soon as tomorrow - with at least one image expected to come in at nearly 200 miles per pixel. This image was taken by the craft's Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), which combines light from the infrared, red and blue channels.
In the early hours of January 1, the New Horizons spacecraft flew by Ultima Thule.
Today's imagery, derived from data sent back to Earth on the previous day, literally casts a whole new light on the 19-mile-long object - which is known by its official designation, 2014 MU69, or by the nickname given by the New Horizons team, Ultima Thule ("Ul-ti-ma Too-lay"). Ultima Thule rotates about once every 15 hours, the scientists determined. The center image was taken by a black and white imager with a higher resolution.
WASHINGTON: Four billion miles from the sun floats Ultima Thule, an icy celestial body that NASA scientists announced Wednesday is aptly shaped like a giant snowman.
Jeff Moore leads the New Horizons' geology team. The mission scientists believe that 4.5 billion years ago, a rotating cloud of small, icy bodies coalesced.
Clues about the surface composition of Ultima Thule should start rolling in by Thursday.
Instead, the first images beamed down from the spacecraft show it resembles a snowman - or even the BB-8 droid robot from the "Star Wars" film series.
The initial "bowling pin" image. Scientists say no impact craters could be seen in the latest photos.
Unlike in the inner Solar System, there are probably very few collisions between objects.
First, the scientists must work on the Ultima data, but they will also ask NASA to fund a further extension to the mission. The slow data-rates from the Kuiper belt mean it will be fully 20 months before all the information is pulled off the spacecraft.