Published: Thu, July 11, 2019
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Japan's Hayabusa2 probe makes second touchdown on distant Ryugu asteroid

Japan's Hayabusa2 probe makes second touchdown on distant Ryugu asteroid

In order to successfully find and gather the samples, an "impactor" was reportedly sent to the asteroid in order to create a crater for Hayabusa2 to probe.

The successful touch down is the second for the space probe, and JAXA said it began its descent to Ryugu on Wednesday morning from an altitude of 20,000 meters.

Hayabusa2 is due to return to Earth in late 2020.

Around 80 JAXA engineers controlling and tracking the mission from the control center in Sagamihara City, near Tokyo, burst into applause upon seeing the data that confirmed the probe's successful landing.

The space probe is expected to depart Ryugu in December 2019 along with samples collected from below the surface of the asteroid.

The actual landing was just a few seconds.

It has spent the past year taking photographic images of the asteroid, named after an undersea palace in ancient Japanese folklore.

"It would be safe to say that extremely attractive materials are near the crater", Tsuda said before the landing. "Hayabusa2 is functioning normally, and thus the second touchdown ended with success".

A photo of the crater taken by Hayabusa2's camera shows that parts of the asteroid's surface are covered with materials that are "obviously different" from the rest of the surface, mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa told reporters.

If Hayabusa2 collected the exposed dust it intended, it would be the first time a spacecraft has collected samples from below the surface of an asteroid, according to the agency.

But its main mission was to observe and sample the surface of Ryugu, an asteroid some 300 million kilometres (187 million miles) from Earth that is believed to be relatively unchanged since the solar system was formed some 4.6 billion years ago. It touched down in February to collect surface samples and found hydrated minerals that will help scientists determine whether asteroids brought water to Earth as hypothesized.

But JAXA scientists learned from that first mission and conducted numerous simulations using the successor probe.

Japan has successfully landed its Hayabusa 2 spacecraft on a distant asteroid for the second time.

The Ryugu asteroid is said to hovering in space since the beginning of the solar system. Their hope is that the samples provide a window into what the solar system was like at its birth - or clues to how life first developed.

The spacecraft, which is about the size of a refrigerator and powered by solar panels, was launched in 2014 and travelled for three years around the sun to reach Ryugu.

The earlier probe returned with dust samples from a smaller, potato-shaped asteroid in 2010, despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year odyssey, and was hailed as a scientific triumph. "I hope Hayabusa2 will come back to Earth safely".

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