Spacecraft successfully lands on small asteroid 186 million miles from Earth

22 February 2019, 03:08 | Updated: 22 February 2019, 07:53

A Japanese spacecraft has landed on an asteroid more than 186 million miles from Earth on a mission to uncover clues about the origins of life.

The Hayabusa 2 probe, named after a falcon, touched down on Ryugu - an asteroid just 900m (3,000ft) in diameter.

Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency control centre burst into applause and cheers as they received confirmation the spacecraft had touched down.

Patrick Michel, a senior researcher at CRNS (the French National Centre for Scientific Research), said: "I'm crazy about Hayabusa 2 because it's a very ambitious mission, like the Japanese like to do and it has many firsts.

"So it made the first detailed image of a potentially carbon-rich asteroid, it made the first deployment of mini rovers and a French-German lander on the surface of such a small body, and it's going to be the first sampling on an asteroid."

During the touchdown, Hayabusa 2 was programmed to extend a pipe and fire a pinball-like object into the asteroid to raise material from beneath the surface.

Three touchdowns are planned - and eventually, scientists hope the spacecraft will bring particles back to Earth for analysis.

An initial attempt to land in October was delayed because it was difficult to pick a landing spot on the asteroid's rocky surface.

Project manager Yuichi Tsuda told a news conference: "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.

"It landed in the best circumstances among the scenarios we envisioned."

Hayabusa 2 is scheduled to return to Earth by the end of 2020.