SYDNEY, Jun (Reuters) – A Japanese space probe, which scientists hope is carrying a sample from an asteroid, has returned to Earth, blazing a spectacular trail across the sky in the Australian outback, witnesses said Monday.
The Hayabusa probe is returning home after a seven-year mission which took it to the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa, on which it landed in 2005. Scientists hope it has brought back a sample, the first time one has come back to Earth from any other world, except our own Moon.
An Australian defense official speaking from the area told Reuters Monday the probe lit up the sky as it returned on schedule around midnight local time (1430 GMT) over the Woomera weapons testing range in South Australia state.
“It was like a shooting star with a starburst behind it. It was fantastic,” the official told Reuters by telephone, saying officials were on their way to discover its exact landing site and retrieve its contents.
Teams from NASA in a flying laboratory have been deployed to watch the craft’s arrival, along with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which sent the 500-kilogram probe on its mission in 2003.