Published: Fri, July 12, 2019
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Japan just landed a shuttle on an asteroid

Japan just landed a shuttle on an asteroid

Japan's Hayabusa2 probe made a "perfect" touchdown Thursday on a distant asteroid, collecting samples from beneath the surface in an unprecedented mission that could shed light on the origins of the solar system.

The Japanese spacecraft landed in the crater on Thursday and collected pristine samples of the asteroid insides that scientists think unaffected by space radiation and other universal factors.

As if landing on large planets weren't hard enough, the space scientists and engineers in at JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) wanted to land a spacecraft on an asteroid.

Back in April, the probe fired an "impactor" at the surface of the space rock Ryugu, which is 185 million miles (300 million kilometres) from earth, to create a crater.

After blasting a crater in Ryugu, it has returned to pick up fresh rubble.

As the samples will come from within the asteroid, they will have had reduced exposure to the harsh environment of space.

It blasted the asteroid with a copper plate and a box of explosives in April in an effort to loosen rocks and expose materials below the surface, then efficiently landed on Ryugu last night to collect up the rock and soil particles. Its surface is also strewn with an unusual number of boulders - more per unit surface area than any asteroid explored so far - showed a paper published by JAXA scientists.

Hayabusa2 had first furtive contact with the asteroid in February, to collect dust from its surface.

The complex multi-year mission also involved sending rovers and robots down to the surface.

The second touchdown required special preparations, because any problems could mean the probe would lose the precious materials gathered during its first landing. "Project Manager Tsuda has declared that the 2nd touchdown was a success!"

Hayabusa2 is equipped with various types of technology to help it observe and sample Ryugu, including a camera, that has beamed back images of the desolate asteroid's surface, and sensing equipment to record an array of data.

The Hayabusa2 mission has attracted global attention, with Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May sending a video to the probes team ahead of the landing.

Hayabusa2 has travelled around 4 billion km around the Sun in an elliptical orbit since its launch in December 2014. Hayabusa2, for its second sample, would then capture the debris as it floated up.

Price tag for the Hayabusa2 mission, which was launched in December 2014.

After having collected the first underground samples of an asteroid, Hayabusa2 is expected to leave Ryugu later this year and return to Earth by the end of 2020.

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