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The week before last, a falcon was launched into space: Elon Musk’s privately financed Falcon 9 heavy-lifting rocket. This week a different falcon returned from the void. On June 13th Hayabusa, as the bird is known in Japanese, streaked through the night sky of southern Australia to deliver to Earth what researchers hope will be the first sample of rock collected from the surface of an asteroid.

As the picture suggests, most of the craft burned up on re-entry. But a small part, protected by a heat shield made of carbon-phenolic resin, survived and landed in the desert near Woomera. This capsule, it is hoped, will contain material from Itokawa, a half-kilometre-long asteroid whose orbit crosses the Earth’s.

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Category: Science