Japan retrieves asteroid samples in hunt for origins of planets

By Stanley White and Melanie Burton TOKYO/MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Japan has retrieved a capsule of asteroid dust from Australia's remote outback after a six-year mission that may help uncover more about the origins of the planets and water, the Asian nation's space agency said on Sunday.

Reuters December 07, 2020 00:10:09 IST
Japan retrieves asteroid samples in hunt for origins of planets

Japan retrieves asteroid samples in hunt for origins of planets

By Stanley White and Melanie Burton

TOKYO/MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Japan has retrieved a capsule of asteroid dust from Australia's remote outback after a six-year mission that may help uncover more about the origins of the planets and water, the Asian nation's space agency said on Sunday.

The mission of the Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa2, spotlights Asia's growing role in space exploration, with a Chinese robotic vehicle collecting lunar samples last week for the first time since the 1970s.

A helicopter flew the capsule from the unmanned craft, containing the first extensive samples of asteroid dust, from the landing site in Australia's desert to a domestic research facility of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

"The probe landed on the asteroid twice, and the second time it created an artificial crater and collected some debris," agency president Hiroshi Yamakawa told a news conference.

"I hope this will shed light on how the solar system was formed and how water was brought to Earth."

The capsule may also contain some gas, which will be extracted in Australia, Yamakawa added.

The spacecraft, launched in 2014 from Japan's Tanegashima space centre, journeyed for four years to the asteroid Ryugu, where it gathered a sample and headed home in November 2019.

Spectators gathered at a theatre near the Japanese capital of Tokyo to view the return clapped and waved banners in NHK footage, with one woman in tears. They wore masks and kept a distance from each other as precautions against the coronavirus.

Asteroids are believed to have formed at the dawn of the solar system, and scientists say the sample may contain organic matter that could have contributed to life on Earth.

"What we are really doing here is trying to sample this pristine rock that has not been irradiated by the sun," astrophysicist Lisa Harvey-Smith told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Gases trapped in the rock samples could reveal more about conditions prevailing about 4.6 billion years ago, she added.

The retrieval of the capsule also highlights close technical cooperation between Japan and Australia.

"Our job supporting JAXA will not be complete until we see the sample... safely leaves Australia and returns to Japan," Megan Clark, head of the Australian Space Agency, told the news conference.

"And then the sample will start to tell its stories and reveal to us some wonderful signs about how water arrived on our Earth and how we even may have been formed, such as our organics, carbon-based animals, humans, and plants."

Japan's craft, named for the peregrine falcon, a bird of prey, orbited above the asteroid for a few months to map its surface before landing. It used small explosives to blast a crater and collected the resulting debris.

After Hayabusa2 dropped off the capsule, it changed course and headed back into space.

The capsule lit up on re-entry into the atmosphere early on Sunday and landed in the Woomera restricted area, about 460 km (285 miles) north of Adelaide, the space agency said.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by William Mallard and Clarence Fernandez)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date:

TAGS:

also read

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources
| Reuters
World

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources | Reuters

By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States

China's Xi says navy should become world class
| Reuters
World

China's Xi says navy should become world class | Reuters

BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.