Graphic distribution of computer image showing Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's Hayabusa 2 probe arriving at an asteroid in image released by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, created March 1
TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese space probe is on its way home from an asteroid 250 million miles (15 million miles) from Earth after collecting samples on the subsurface to help scientists Seeking the origin of life, Japan's Space Agency said on Monday.
Asteroids are believed to have formed at the dawn of the solar system and scientists say that the asteroid, called Ryugu, may contain organic matter that may have contributed to life on Earth.
If the return journey was successfully completed, it will be the first time samples from an asteroid's surface have been returned to Earth, said a spokeswoman for the Japanese Aviation Research Agency, or JAXA.
The unmanned Hayabusa 2, named after a falcon, began leaving Ryugu last week, but it still sends images back to earth.
These observations will be switched on Monday or Tuesday before its main engine is activated for the year-long flight, JAXA said.
"This is us saying goodbye to Ryugu," the spokeswoman said.
Hayabusa 2 is scheduled to return to Earth by the end of 2020. After dropping a capsule containing the samples, without landing, the probe itself will continue to fly out into space, ending its six-year, 29 billion yen (266 million dollars) missions.
($ 1 = 109.1000 yen)
Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Alison Williams