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Hayabusa2 touches down on asteroid for the second time

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By Sinead Barry  with AFP
Hayabusa2 touches down on asteroid for the second time
Copyright  REUTERS/Kyodo

Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 made its second successful touchdown on astroid Ryugu on Thursday.

The mission of the probe is to observe and collect samples of the surface of the asteroid, which is some 300 million kilometres from Earth. Ryugu, in particular, is significant as scientists believe that it remains relatively unchanged since the beginning of the universe some 4.6 billion years ago.

Researchers hope that the samples collected from the asteroid will help us better understand the formation of the solar system and the evolution of our planet. One aspect they hope to clarify is whether elements from space contributed to the emergence of life on earth.

The space probe, which is approximately the size of a large fridge was launched from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan in late 2014. Arriving at its position in June of last year, it astounded enthusiasts, being likened to "shooting from Japan at a six-centimetre target in Brazil".

Its first contact with the asteroid took place in February when it descended to collect dust from the surface.

Researchers were worried about the threats posed with yesterday's descent. If the mission had failed there was a risk that February's harvest samples could have been lost.

If the mission stays on track, the probe will drop a capsule containing the samples to Earth in late 2020.

The mission is hailed by scientists for its ambitiousness, with Project Manager Yuichi Tsuda describing the exploration as "unprecedented for humankind."