A Japanese space probe carrying dust samples from an asteroid has landed in the South Australian outback.The probe landed just before midnight (CST) on Sunday night, the Australian Science Media Centre confirmed.The Stuart Highway was blocked temporarily for several hours from just south of Coober Pedy to just north of Glendambo.
Hayabusa blasted into space in May 2003 bound for Itokawa, an asteroid about 300 million kilometres from Earth, to collect dust samples believed to yield unprecedented information about the evolution of the solar system.
The probe itself didn't survive re-entry into the earth's atmosphere, but during its final decent it launched a small sample canister containing the collected space material that floated to earth on a parachute.
The space capsule dropped by the probe landed successfully at its landing site, a restricted military zone in the remote South Australian desert.
Once detached from the Hayabusa probe, the heat-proof capsule descended through the Earth's atmosphere by parachute, as the rest of the craft disintegrated upon re-entry.
Scientists hope that Hayabusa, which reached the Itokawa asteroid in late 2005, will bring back samples gathered in two landings on the asteroid, along with other data that may yield clues to the origin of the universe.