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Japan probe lands 300 million km away in hunt for clues to origin of life

Meanwhile, Israel began a mission to make its first Moon landing.

Japan Space The Japanese unmanned spacecraft Hayabusa2 approaching on the asteroid Ryugu. Source: AP/PA Images

A JAPANESE PROBE sent to collect samples from an asteroid 300 million kilometres away for clues about the origin of life and the solar system has landed successfully, scientists said.

Hayabusa2 touched down briefly on the Ryugu asteroid, fired a bullet into the surface to puff up dust for collection and blasted back to its holding position, said officials from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

A live webcast of the control room showed dozens of staff members nervously monitoring data ahead of the touchdown before exploding into applause after receiving a signal from Hayabusa2 that it had landed.

Japan Space Staff react as they confirm Hayabusa2 made a maneuver at the control room of the JAXA Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Sagamihara, near Tokyo. Source: IIJIMA Yutaka

“We made the ideal touchdown in the best conditions,” Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 project manager, told reporters.

The complicated procedure took less time than expected and appeared to go without a hitch, said Hayabusa2 mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa.

“I’m really relieved now. It felt very long until the moment the touchdown happened,” he said.

He said the firing of the bullet – the first of three planned in this mission – “will lead to a leap, or new discoveries, in planetary science.”

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.

Scientists hope those samples may provide answers to some fundamental questions about life and the universe, including whether elements from space helped give rise to life on Earth.

Genesis

UPI 20190221 A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off at 8:45 PM from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Source: UPI/PA Images

Meanwhile, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, an unmanned rocket took off last night carrying Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft, aiming to make history twice: as the first private-sector landing on the Moon, and the first from the Jewish state.

The 585-kilogram (1,290-pound) Beresheet, which means ‘Genesis’ in Hebrew, lifted off at 1.45am Irish time atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the private US-based SpaceX company of entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Take-off was followed live back in Israel by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

UPI 20190221 On board the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is a US Air force research lab as well as a lunar lander named Beresheet. Source: UPI/PA Images

The Israeli craft was placed in Earth orbit, from where it will use its own engine to undertake a seven-week trip to reach the Moon and touch down on April 11 in a large plain.

The mission is part of renewed global interest in the Moon, sometimes called the “eighth continent” of the Earth, and comes 50 years after American astronauts first walked on the lunar surface.

A message from SpaceIL, the non-profit organisation that designed the Israeli craft read:

This is history in the making – and it’s live! Israel is aiming for the #moon and you’re all invited to watch.

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