The control room during capsule separation operation

In a major development in the world of deep space exploration, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft is sending samples from an asteroid that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system and life on our planet.

Hayabusa2 is a robotic space probe launched by Japan’s space agency in 2014 to explore Ryugu, a dark, carbon-rich rock asteroid. In the Japanese language, Ryugu means “Dragon Palace,” It is taken from a Japanese folk tale and is the name of a sea-bottom castle.

According to reports, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the Hayabusa2 successfully detached Saturday afternoon from 220,000 kilometres (136,700 miles) away in a challenging operation that required precision control. The capsule is now descending to land in a place called Woomera in Australia, on Sunday.

Hayabusa2 left the asteroid Ryugu about 300 million kilometres away more than a year ago.

Hayabusa2′s return is just a few weeks after NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft made a successful touch-and-go grab of surface samples from asteroid Bennu.

China has also announced that its lunar lander collected underground samples and sealed them within the spacecraft for return to Earth, as space developing nations compete in their missions.

Many Hayabusa2 fans gathered to observe the moment of the capsule separation at public viewing events across the country, including one at the Tokyo Dome stadium.

Scientists believe the samples from under the asteroid’s surface contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors. They are particularly interested in analyzing organic materials in the samples.

Hayabusa2 has been on a mission since 2014, and once it delivers the capsule, it will return to another distant small asteroid on a 10-year journey (one way) for possible research, including finding ways to prevent meteorites from hitting Earth.

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