Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe touched down on a distant asteroid on Thursday, the country’s space agency said, on a mission to collect samples that could shed light on the history of the solar system.
“The control room received Doppler data showing that the probe appears to have touched down successfully,” Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency spokesman Takayuki Tomobe told AFP.
“But Doppler only shows the speed and altitude so we will need definitive confirmation,” he added. Additional data readings are expected later in the day.
A livestream of JAXA’s control room for the mission showed scientists standing nervously watching monitors with incoming data as the probe neared the asteroid Ryugu, some 300 million kilometres (185 million miles) from Earth.
As the data came in showing the apparently successful touchdown, agency officials broke into applause and shook hands with each other.
The much-anticipated touchdown was only brief, and intended to allow Hayabusa2 to collect samples blasted from beneath Ryugu’s surface.
Scientists hope the pristine samples, which have not been exposed to the atmosphere, may reveal secrets about the evolution of the solar system.
The touchdown is the second time Hayabusa2 has landed on Ryugu, after a first successful landing in February.
But the latest landing required special preparation to ensure the precious samples already aboard Hayabusa2 would not be lost.
The Hayabusa2 mission was launched in December 2014, and has a price tag of around 30 billion yen ($270 million). The probe is scheduled to return to Earth with its samples in 2020.
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