Japanese probe snatches first asteroid sample

Saturday, November 26, 2005

25143 Itokawa

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has achieved the primary goal of the Hayabusa probe's mission by touching down on the surface of an asteroid in an attempt to collect a sample of what is thought to be the oldest material in the solar system.

Despite an earlier aborted attempt, and the apparent loss of an exploratory "micro rover", Hayabusa's achievement is significant. No other mission has attempted to bring back material from an asteroid which is believed to be a remnant from the formation of the solar system.

The actual success of the mission to the Itokawa asteroid cannot actually be known until 2007 when the probe returns to Earth. Only at that time can it be established if firing a metal pellet into the surface of the asteroid disturbed it enough to allow a sample to be obtained.