Japan lands spacecraft on distant asteroid to collect samples

Mission control has been keeping a close eye on the probe 300 million kilometres awayMore

Hayabusa2 had created itself a landing crater in April by dropping a copper impactor.

This is one of the most important missions of the spacecraft, which is scheduled to return to Earth next year with the samples gathered from the Ryugu asteroid, which is around 900 metres in diameter with slightly cubical shape and is considered among the oldest bodies in the solar system, reports Efe news.

Hayabusa2 made its first landing in February to collect surface rock samples. A similar mission is planned by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration on another asteroid, Bennu.

More than 80 JAXA officials at the control room burst into applause at around 10:20 a.m., when data came in confirming a successful touchdown and the probe's subsequent ascent, with many making a V-sign for victory. The moment the success was announced in the command center, everyone stood up, cheered and applauded. "Hayabusa2 is functioning normally, and thus the second touchdown ended with success".

The Hayabusa2 mission has attracted worldwide attention, with Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May sending a video to the probe's team ahead of the landing.

"We obtained pieces of the history of the solar system".

"It would be safe to say that extremely attractive materials are near the crater", Hayabusa2 project manager Yuichi Tsuda said. "Nobody has collected and brought home underground materials from anywhere further than the moon". Asteroids are building materials leftover from the formation of the Solar System.

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There were concerns about the risk of losing the surface samples if the probe was damaged on the second landing, making its return to Earth more hard.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea dragon palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth. Hayabusa2 is expected to leave the asteroid to return to Earth at the end of next year, with the samples for scientific study.

The spacecraft started its gradual descent to the asteroid on Wednesday. They were confident that a second landing could be pulled off.

During the touchdown, Hayabusa2 would extend its sampling tube to the ground, shoot a pinball-size bullet to crack the surface and suck up the debris that got blasted off.

Delighted scientists toasted their success after the spacecraft landed.

A photo of the crater taken by Hayabusa2's camera shows that parts of the asteroid's surface are covered with materials that are "obviously different" from the rest of the surface, mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa told reporters.

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