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July 11, 2019 07:00 am

Japan's Hayabusa2 Probe Makes Second Touchdown On Distant Asteroid

Japan's Hayabusa2 probe touched down on a distant asteroid on Thursday, the space agency said, on a mission to collect samples that could shed light on the history of the solar system. The Japan Times reports: "The control room received Doppler data showing that the probe appears to have touched down successfully," Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency spokesman Takayuki Tomobe said. "But Doppler only shows the speed and altitude so we will need definitive confirmation," he added. Additional data readings are expected later in the day. The landing is the second time it has touched down on the desolate asteroid as part of a complex mission that has also involved sending rovers and robots. The mission hopes 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. To get at those crucial materials, in April an "impactor" was fired from Hayabusa2 toward Ryugu in a risky process that created a crater on the asteroid's surface and stirred up material that had not previously been exposed to the atmosphere. The second touchdown required special preparations because any problems could mean the probe loses the precious materials already gathered during its first landing. The probe had been expected to make a brief touchdown on an area some 20 meters away from the center of the crater to collect the unidentified materials believed to be "ejecta" from the blast.

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