After six years and 6bn km, Japan’s Hayabusa2 prepares to bring home cargo of asteroid dust

The last time Hayabusa2 was seen with the naked eye, Barack Obama was president of the United States and Brexit was a distant Europhobe fantasy.

Photograph: AP

© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: AP

Six years and three days after its groundbreaking mission began, the Japanese spacecraft will drop a capsule onto the Australian outback carrying pristine asteroid fragments that scientists believe could shed light on the formation of the solar system and the origins of life.

By the time it reaches the skies high over Woomera, South Australia, in the early hours of Sunday, the probe will have completed a round-trip of around 6bn km (3.7bn miles) that included two brief stops on the surface of a moving asteroid.

Related: Rock of ages: how asteroid dust may reveal secrets of life on Earth

The unmanned craft will release the capsule from a height of about 220,000km (136,700 miles), the Japan Aerospace

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