Saturday, July 20

Hayabusa2 makes ‘perfect’ touchdown on asteroid

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Photo shows a man walking past a screen displaying a computer-generated image of the Hayabusa2 probe, during a news broadcast at Akihabara district. — AFP photo

TOKYO: Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe made a ‘perfect’ touchdown yesterday on a distant asteroid, collecting samples from beneath the surface in an unprecedented mission that could shed light on the origins of the solar system.

“We’ve collected a part of the solar system’s history,” project manager Yuichi Tsuda said at a jubilant press conference hours after the successful landing was confirmed.

“We have never gathered sub-surface material from a celestial body further away than the Moon,” he added.

“We did it and we succeeded in a world first.”

The fridge-sized probe made its second landing on the asteroid around 10.30am, with officials from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) breaking into applause and cheers as initial data suggested the touchdown had been a success.

Confirmation of the landing came only after Hayabusa2 lifted back up from the asteroid and resumed communications with the control room.

Research director Takashi Kubota told reporters that the touchdown operation was ‘more than perfect.’ And Tsuda, with a grin, said he rated it “1000 points out of 100.” “The probe moved perfectly and the team’s preparation work was perfect,” he said.

The brief landing yesterday is the second time Hayabusa2 has touched down on the desolate asteroid Ryugu, some 300 million kilometres from Earth.

Ryugu, which means ‘Dragon Palace’ in Japanese, refers to a castle at the bottom of the ocean in an ancient Japanese tale.

The complex multi-year Hayabusa2 mission has also involved sending rovers and robots down to the surface.

Yesterday’s touchdown was intended to collect pristine materials from beneath the surface of the asteroid that could provide insights into what the solar system was like at its birth, some 4.6 billion years ago. — AFP