Scientists hope the asteroid sample, the first of its kind to be collected, will help unlock the secrets of Earth’s origins.
A capsule containing a sample of an asteroid that could help unlock enduring mysteries about life on Earth has landed “perfectly” in the South Australian outback.
The Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft took samples from the asteroid Ryugu, approximately 11.76 million kilometres from Earth, in February and July last year.
The capsule touched down in Woomera, South Australia, early on Sunday morning, after travelling more than 5.25 billion kilometres.
At 4.31am AEDT, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency confirmed all “operations related to the re-entry of the capsule have ended”.
“The operation was perfect,” the agency wrote on Twitter.
“We will now move into scientific observation operations, and observe the Earth and moon with scientific instruments.”
It is the first ever sub-surface asteroid sample to return to Earth and could help scientists understand how life formed here.
The capsule became a fireball as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere, making for impressive photos.
Before its arrival, the capsule was travelling at a maximum speed of 11.7 km/s.
Australian Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, said the mission was a very important scientific and technical feat.
“This landing will enable scientists to gain insights into the origin and evolution of the solar system, including organic matter and water, which could hint at how our oceans came to be,” she said.
“It also reinforces Australia’s place as a trusted partner in space, as we look to triple the size of the local sector and create 20,000 new jobs by 2030.”
Deputy head of the Australian Space Agency, Anthony Murfett, said the Hayabusa2 return was a historic milestone for the global space, science and research community.
“Successfully realising the sample return under pandemic restrictions will not only be important for space science and universal discovery, but also for Australia and Japan’s cooperative relationship which spans over many decades,” he said.
“Working on a mission with JAXA is central to one of the ASA’s key roles – to open doors internationally and work with international counterparts on space activities.”