Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe landed successfully on a distant asteroid for a final touchdown on July 11BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images By New Scientist Staff and Press AssociationThe spacecraft Hayabusa 2 has successfully landed on a distant asteroid and completed its mission of collecting underground samples that scientists hope will provide clues to the origin of the solar system, says Japan’s space agency. Hayabusa 2 had created itself a landing crater in April by firing a copper bullet into the surface. Thursday’s mission was to land inside the crater and collect underground samples that scientists believe contain more valuable data. The Hayabusa 2 craft is the first to successfully collect underground soil samples from an asteroid and its achievement comes ahead of a similar mission planned by NASA at another asteroid. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said it has confirmed data showing Hayabusa 2 touched down and rose safely after collecting the samples as planned. Advertisement Takashi Kubota, a Hayabusa 2 project member at JAXA, was beaming when he showed up at an unexpectedly early news conference to announce the result. The moment the success was announced in the command centre, everyone stood up, cheered and applauded, some of them making victory signs. “It was a success, a big success,” says Kubota. “We achieved success in all scheduled procedures.” Read more: Japan’s Hayabusa 2 bombed an asteroid and took pictures of the crater The spacecraft had started its gradual descent from its home location on Wednesday. In the final landing phase on Thursday, Hayabusa 2 hovered at the height of 30 metres above the asteroid and quickly found its landing marker left from the earlier mission. The actual landing was just a few seconds. During the touchdown, Hayabusa 2 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. Landing was a challenge for Hayabusa 2 because of a risk of getting hit by dust and debris that remain at the crater, says Kubota. “Everything went perfectly, even better than perfect, as if Hayabusa were reading our minds,” he says. JAXA plans to send the spacecraft, which was on its way back to the home position above the asteroid, to examine the landing site from above. The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea dragon palace in a Japanese folk tale, is about 300 million kilometres from Earth. Hayabusa 2 is expected to leave the asteroid to return to Earth at the end of next year, with the samples set for scientific study. Read more: Quiz: How good is your knowledge of the moon? More on these topics: asteroids space
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