TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese space probe returns home from asteroid 250 million km (155 million miles) from Earth after collecting samples below the surface that could help scientists looking for sources of life, the Japanese space agency said Monday.
Asteroids are thought to have originated at the dawn of the solar system, and scientists say the asteroid, called Ryugu, may contain organic matter that may have contributed to life on Earth.
If the return trip is successful, then for the first time samples from under the asteroid surface will be brought to Earth, said spokeswoman for Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA.
Unmanned Hayabusa 2, named after the falcon, began leaving Ryugu last week, but is still sending images back to Earth.
JAXA said these observations would be summarized on Monday or Tuesday before starting the main engine for a year-long flight.
"We are saying goodbye to Ryugu," said a spokeswoman.
Hayabusa 2 is expected to return to Earth by the end of 2020. After dropping the capsule containing the samples without landing, the probe itself will continue to fly into space, ending its six-year, 29 billion yen (USD 266 million) mission.
(Report: Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editors: Alison Williams)