A Japanese space probe has touched down on an asteroid 186 miles from Earth to collect samples that scientists hope will shed clues about the origins of life.
The spacecraft, Hayabusa 2, named after the Japanese word for falcon, landed on the 3,000ft asteroid Ryugu this morning, more than four years after it launched from earth.
Initial attempts to land were delayed in October due to difficulties picking a suitable spot on the asteroid’s rocky surface.
The news came just hours after Space X launched a rocket carrying Israel’s first lunar landing vessel from Florida last night.
If the vessel’s mission is successful, it will make the Jewish state the fourth nation to touch down on the moon’s surface.
The Japanese spacecraft fired a small projectile into the surface of the asteroid to collect samples which scientists it will bring back to earth for analysis, the Japan Aerospace Agency (Jaxa) said.
Asteroids are believed to have formed at the dawn of the solar system and scientists hope Ryugu contains organic matter that may have contributed to life on Earth.
“We may have caused some worry due to the delay but we carried out our plan flawlessly over the past four months to bring it to a successful landing,” project manager Yuichi Tsuda told a news conference.
“It landed in the best circumstances among the scenarios we envisioned,” he said.
The mission is the second time a Japanese spacecraft has landed successfully on an asteroid. The current spacecraft’s predecessor, Hayabusa, touched down on asteroid Itokawa in 2005, returning to earth with the first ever asteroid samples five years later.
Jaxa plans for Hayabusa 2 to lift off Ryugu and touch back down up to three times before returning to earth at the end of 2020.