A Japanese deep-space probe became the first ever to collect asteroid dust, during a seven-year odyssey that ended with its return to Earth over the Australian desert this year, Japan said Tuesday.
The news crowns with success the journey of the unmanned Hayabusa probe, which five years ago made a pinpoint landing on an asteroid 300 million kilometres (186 million miles) from Earth — about twice as far as the sun.
Since the probe’s return in June, scientists had carried out a lengthy analysis of the samples it brought back to confirm they were genuinely extraterrestrial after technical problems during the mission.
"It’s a world first and a remarkable accomplishment that it brought home material from a celestial body other than the moon," Japan’s science and technology minister, Yoshiaki Takagi, told a news conference in Tokyo.
The team was "unbelievably lucky," said Junichiro Kawaguchi, the manager of the Hayabusa project, telling reporters: "I don’t know how to describe what has been beyond our dreams, but I’m overwhelmed by emotion."
Hayabusa, which means falcon, blasted off in 2003 for its lonely odyssey, which at times appeared doomed. At one stage the probe lost contact with Earth for seven weeks, a glitch that added three years to its space voyage.
Read the rest of the story: Japan confirms space probe brought home asteroid dust.