A Japanese spacecraft has successfully touched down on an asteroid 300 million kilometers from the Earth as it attempts a bold maneuver to collect samples and bring them back for scientists to study.
The Hayabusa 2 probe touched down on the asteroid Ryugu at around 11:30pm GMT on Thursday. Data from the probe showed changes in speed and direction, indicating it had reached the asteroid’s surface, according to officials from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
A live webcast of the control room showed dozens of JAXA staff members nervously monitoring data ahead of the touchdown before exploding into applause after receiving a signal from Hayabusa2 that it had landed.
The probe fired a bullet at the Ryugu asteroid, to stir up surface matter, which it will then collect for analysis back on Earth. The asteroid is thought to contain relatively large amounts of organic matter and water from some 4.6 billion years ago when the solar system was born. Three such bullet firings are scheduled.
The spacecraft is seeking to gather 10g of the dislodged debris with an instrument named the Sampler Horn that hangs below it.
Whatever material is collected by the spacecraft will be stored onboard until Hayabusa 2 reaches its landing site in Woomera, South Australia, in 2020 after a journey of more than three billion miles.