Tokyo: A Japanese probe that aims to examine a distant asteroid for clues about the origin of the solar system appears to have landed successfully on Friday, the space agency said.
“We confirmed data communication with the probe recovered after the touchdown, and it seems that touchdown was successful, but we have to analyse various data that we are receiving step by step ... before the final confirmation,” JAXA spokeswoman Chisato Ikuta told journalists.
Such confirmation is expected in a few hours given the distance between the probe and Earth.
A live webcast of the control room showed dozens of JAXA staff members nervously monitoring data ahead of the touchdown before exploding into applause after receiving a signal from the probe, Hayabusa2, that it had landed.
Another JAXA spokeswoman, Azusa Yabe, said they had received data showing a change of speed and direction — that the probe had changed from descending to rising back towards its orbiting position.
This indicates a successful landing but the agency still needs to check various other parts of the probe to be able to confirm.
The probe is scheduled to fire a “bullet” into the asteroid’s surface to stir up surface matter, which the probe will then collect for analysis back on Earth.
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 the 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.