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Space probe returning from asteroid with samples from dawn of Solar System

A PIONEERING space probe is set to return samples of an ancient asteroid’s inner core material to Earth.

Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe has fired a gun into Asteroid 162173 Ryugu in order to extract samples from beneath its surface, giving scientists a look back in time to the earliest moments of the Solar System.

The samples it brings back to Earth will give scientists new insight into the earliest moments of the Solar System and the beginnings of life.

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The small probe, about the size of a large fridge, is expected to remain on the asteroid until December sampling various aspects of the asteroid’s chemistry.  

Asteroids like Ryugu are the original building blocks of the Solar System, and while their surface crust may have been altered by solar radiation or impact with other bodies the material beneath is a pristine snapshot of our beginnings.

“We love you, take care Hayabusa2”

Brian May

“We’ve collected a part of the solar system’s history,” Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) project manager Yuichi Tsuda told a news conference shortly after the successful touchdown was confirmed.

“We have never gathered subsurface material from a celestial body further away than the moon,” he added.

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

Hayabusa rendezvoused with the asteroid in June last year and dropped two rovers, Minerva and Mascot, onto its surface, which have been collecting material for return ever since.

The Hayabusa mothership itself is powered by four solar-electric ion thrusters which, although comparatively low-powered are extremely efficient.  The 66 kg of xenon reaction mass they carry can change the speed of the spacecraft by up to 4,500 mph.

Astrophysicist (and Queen guitarist) professor Brian May sent a video message to the probe’s team ahead of the landing.

“The world is watching. We love you, take care Hayabusa2,” he said.

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