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Science

Japan's space probe sticks second landing on distant asteroid

Hayabusa2 aims to collect materials in search for clues to solar system's origin

An image of the Hayabusa2 probe on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. (Image courtesy of JAXA)

TOKYO -- Hayabusa2, Japan's high-tech space exploration probe, successfully landed on the asteroid, Ryugu, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency confirmed on Thursday morning.

The touch down took place about 240 million kilometers away from Earth, and is the space probe's second landing after one in February.

The vehicle aims to collect subsurface rocks and sediment near a crater that were thrown up when it created in April by blasting a metal projectile into the asteroid's surface.

The success of the mission up to this point has been a triumph for Japan's space program and a demonstration of its technical expertise. It will be the first time subsurface samples will have been taken from an asteroid.

The craft started its final descent on Thursday morning. Communicating with the control team is difficult, so the final stages are almost completely automated.

The Hayabusa2 control room bursts into applause at confirmation of the successful landing. (Photo by Arisa Moriyama)

The mission is to find clues to fundamental questions about the formation of the solar system, and the origins of life on Earth. Solar winds have weathered and worn away the asteroid's surface, but scientists believe the subsurface materials could act as a time capsule from the solar system's formation 4.6 billion years ago.

Hayabusa2 will stay near Ryugu until late 2019, and return to Earth at the end 2020.

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