07/11/2019, 13.04
JAPAN
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Japanese probe lands on asteroid to collect clues about the origins of the universe

For the Hayabusa-2 space probe, this is the second landing on the asteroid Ryugu, after touching down last February. Now it is back to collect rock samples that could contain clues dating back to 4.5 billion years ago. If successful, the mission, which began in 2014, could be the first of its kind in the history of space exploration.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) - An unmanned Japanese space probe has landed on an asteroid about 290 million kilometres from the earth to collect rock material that scientists believe may contain clues to how the universe has evolved.

The manoeuvre that brought the Hayabusa-2 into contact with the surface of asteroid Ryugu this morning was greeted with relief and renewed confidence by the control room of the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) in Sagamihara, in the eastern prefecture of Kanagawa (picture 2).

For Hayabusa-2 this is the second landing on the asteroid, after touching down last February. After blasting a crater, the space probe is now back to collect some rock samples.

Since these will come from inside the asteroid, they will not have been exposed to the harsh environment of space. Hence, scientists hope to get more data on the origins of the Solar System.

Hayabusa-2 is due to bring the specimens back to Earth next year, after leaving the asteroid between November and December 2019.

Ryugu belongs to a particularly primitive type of space rock, left over from the early days of the Solar System. It may therefore contain clues about the conditions and chemistry of that time – some 4.5 billion years ago.

Hayabusa-2 started its mission to Ryugu in 2014, launching from Japan's space port Tanegashima, a small island located south of Kyushu Island, Japan’s southernmost main island.

If the probe can collect material from the bottom of the man-made crater, it will be the first to do so in the history of space exploration.

The Hayabusa-2 began to descent toward Ryugu (picture 2) yesterday from an altitude of 20 kilometres.

When it reached a height of 30 metres above the surface of the asteroid, the space probe switched to full autonomous function, using a camera to track a target marker that is had dropped earlier.

JAXA scientists said that the probe’s aim was to land 2.6 metres from the target marker.

Ryugu is a 900-metre-wide space rock. Asteroids are building materials leftover from the formation of the Solar System.

For experts, they may contain chemical compounds that could have been important for kick-starting life on Earth, as well as water, organic (carbon-rich) compounds and precious metals.

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