Japan launches space probe to asteroid to 'clarify origin of solar system'

A Japanese probe lifts off from the launch pad of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Tanegashima Space Center on December 3, 2014.

Story highlights

  • Japan's space agency has launched a probe to a distant asteroid
  • Its mission is to take samples that could shed light on the origin of the solar system
  • It is a successor to a probe that completed a seven-year mission in 2010
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has launched a space probe on a mission to collect a sample from a distant asteroid.
The launch of the Hayabusa-2 probe took place early Wednesday local time from Japan's Tanegashima Space Center, JAXA said on its website.
The agency said its target was an asteroid called "1999 JU3." The mission was to land on the asteroid and use instruments to draw samples from it that could shed light on "the origin and evolution of the solar system," the agency said.
The mission is a successor to the Hayabusa probe, which was launched in 2003 and returned to Earth in 2010, but failed to successfully drop a lander on its target asteroid.
"1999 JU3" was a "C-type" asteroid, a "more primordial body" than the asteroid targeted by the Hayabusa 2's predecessor, said JAXA, and as such it was expected to contain more organic or hydrated material for study.
"We expect to clarify the origin of life by analyzing samples acquired from a primordial celestial body such as a C-type asteroid to study organic matter and water in the solar system," JAXA said in a statement.