Sunday, November 20, 2005

Scientists hunt for asteroid probe in space

Japanese scientists were trying to track a space probe almost 300 million km (186 million miles) from earth on Sunday, on a mission to bring back the world's first samples from an asteroid.
The unmanned Hayabusa probe the name means "falcon" in Japanese had been due to land on the surface of the 548 meter long asteroid 25143 Itokawa for just one second after a voyage of two and a half years.But it was unclear whether the probe had completed its delicate mission, a spokesman for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.
"The probe launched a landing target marker from a height of 40 meters, then descended to a position 17 meters from the asteroid," said a spokesman for JAXA. "We are not certain what happened after that."
Scientists were in communication with the probe and analyzing data to try to calculate its exact position, thought to be close to the asteroid, but it was unclear whether there had been a technical problem, he said.
Asteroids, unlike larger space bodies such as the moon, are believed to contain rocks that have remained largely unchanged since the early days of the solar system and can thus offer valuable information about its origins.


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