Japan's Hayabusa2 probe makes second touchdown on asteroid

Eloise Marshall
July 11, 2019

Japan's space agency has announced its space probe Hayabusa2 has successfully landed on the asteroid Ryugu.

"It was a success, a big success", said Takashi Kubota, a Hayabusa2 project member.

"At 9:58, we made a "Go" decision for the Hayabusa2 probe's second touchdown", the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said in a statement.

The asteroid is about 250 million kilometers away from Earth and the successful mission is said to be of considerable scientific and strategic significance.

Hayabusa2 is the first to successfully collect underground soil samples from an asteroid and comes ahead of a similar mission planned by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) team at another asteroid.

The mission hopes to collect pristine materials from beneath the surface of the asteroid that could provide insights into what the solar system was like at its birth, some 4.6 billion years ago. "Project Manager Tsuda has declared that the 2nd touchdown was a success!", the agency said on its Twitter.

"Everything went perfectly, even better than ideal, as if Hayabusa were reading our minds", he said.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft had created a landing crater on the rocky asteroid in April by dropping a copper impactor.

Scientists believe that the samples, which the Japanese probe will try to collect, may shed light on how the Solar System was created and how life appeared on Earth.

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Asteroids are rocky remnants left over from the formation of the solar system.

The probe started its descent on Wednesday from its stationary position 20 km above the asteroid surface.

As it takes 14 minutes to transmit information between Earth and the probe, raising the possibility the control room could be too late to intervene if a problem arises, Hayabusa2 operated autonomously once it reached 30 meters above the surface.

The actual landing lasted only a few seconds.

Hayabusa-2 is expected to return to Earth with its samples in 2020.

Earlier this morning, JAXA also released a series of images taken immediately before and after the spacecraft's touchdown on Ryugu showing the gravel blasted out from beneath the surface that is now scattered across the asteroid's surface.

"It would be safe to say that extremely attractive materials are near the crater", Tsuda said before the landing.

Hayabusa2's photos of Ryugu, which means "Dragon Palace" in Japanese and refers to a castle at the bottom of the ocean in an ancient Japanese tale, show the asteroid has a rough surface full of boulders.

Delighted scientists toasted their success after the spacecraft landed. "I'm so excited about finding out about all these unknowns".

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