Japanese space probe touches down on asteroid to collect samples

22 February, 2019, 11:28 | Author: Sherry Houston
  • Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, staff of the Hayabusa2 Project watch monitors for a safety check at the control room of the JAXA Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Sagamihara near Tokyo Thursday Feb

Employees at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) rejoiced on Friday as the Hayabusa2 explorer signaled that it landed on a distant asteroid.

Three other touchdowns are planned before Hayabusa2 starts the journey back home, with the explorer expected to return at the end of 2020.

The probe is scheduled to touchdown on the asteroid on Friday morning and begin collecting rock samples from Ryugu's surface, JAXA said, adding that if any abnormalities were detected in the landing procedure, the mission would be immediately aborted.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) associate professor Yuichi Tsuda holds a banner reading "success" in front of an image of the Hayabusa 2 space probe's landing on the Ryugu asteroid, 340 million kilometers from Earth, at JAXA's facility in Sagamihara, south of Tokyo, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo February 22, 2019.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 900 metres (3,000 feet) in diameter and 280 million kilometres (170 million miles) from Earth.

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Scientists believe the asteroid contains a relatively large amount of organic matter and water from when our solar system was born some 4.6 billion years ago.

Originally, Hayabusa2 was scheduled to touch down last October.

That probe returned from a smaller, potato-shaped, asteroid in 2010 with dust samples despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year Odyssey and was hailed as a scientific triumph.

But it was pushed back after surveys found the asteroid's surface was more rugged than initially thought, forcing JAXA to take more time to find a suitable landing site.

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