Spacecraft Hayabusa2 of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is back with samples of Ryugu asteroid

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The Japanese spacecraft is nearing Earth after a yearlong journey home from a distant asteroid with soil samples and data that could provide clues to the origins of the solar system. The spacecraft is expected to reach Earth and drop in southern Australia on Dec. 6. A capsule containing the samples of asteroid Ryugu, from about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth. touched down on Ryugu twice, despite its extremely rocky surface, and successfully collected data and samples during the 1½ years after it arrived there in June 2018. Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency believe the samples, especially those taken from under the asteroid’s surface, contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors.

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The capsule, protected by a heat shield, will turn into a fireball during re-entry in the atmosphere at 200 kilometers (125 miles) above ground. At about 10 kilometers (6 miles) above ground, a parachute will open to prepare for landing. The pan-shaped capsule has a diameter of 40 centimeters (15 inches). Asteroids, which orbit the sun but are much smaller than planets, are among the oldest objects in the solar system.