Japan's Hayabusa2 probe touches down on asteroid

11 Juillet, 2019, 14:12 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Yuichi Tsuda points at an image showing the surface of the asteroid Ryugu

In the final landing phase Thursday, Hayabusa2 hovered at the height of 100 feet above the asteroid and quickly found its landing marker left from the earlier mission.

"The landing was a huge success as [Hayabusa2] made a ideal move nearly in line with our expectations", Takashi Kubota, a professor at JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science told Japan's Kyodo news agency.

Japan's space agency JAXA said Thursday that data transmitted from the spacecraft Hayabusa2 indicated its second successful touchdown on the distant asteroid Ryugu to complete a historic mission - to collect underground samples in hopes of finding clues to the origin of the solar system.

The asteroid is a 900m-wide space rock, about 290 million km (180 million miles) from Earth.

The complex multi-year Hayabusa2 mission has also involved sending rovers and robots down to the surface. On Thursday, July 11, the spacecraft will touch down on Ryugu a second time to collect some of the pristine, subsurface material exposed by the blast. "Project Manager Tsuda has declared that the 2nd touchdown was a success!", the agency said on its Twitter.

Hayabusa2 briefly landed on Ryugu back in February. It is believed that material inside the asteroid is less weathered by cosmic radiation than rocks on the surface.

The second touchdown requires special preparations because any problems could mean the probe loses the precious materials already gathered during its first landing.

The Agency said the operation, if successful, would mark the first time a space probe has taken samples from below the surface of an asteroid.

"It would be safe to say that extremely attractive materials are near the crater", Tsuda said before the landing.

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Scientists believe that the samples, which the Japanese probe will try to collect, may shed light on how the Solar System was created and how life appeared on Earth.

"I'm really looking forward to analyzing these materials", mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa said.

The Hayabusa2 mission has attracted global attention, with Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May sending a video to the probe's team ahead of the landing. "We love you, take care Hayabusa2", the iconic musician told the team.

Ryugu, which means "Dragon Palace" in Japanese, refers to a castle at the bottom of the ocean in an ancient Japanese tale.

Hayabusa2 is expected to leave the asteroid to return to Earth at the end of next year, with the samples set for scientific study.

Japan's Hayabusa2 has achieved another major success in its bid to return samples of an asteroid's interior to Earth.

In April, a device called an impactor detached from the explorer and fired a copper plate weighing about 2 kilograms into the surface of Ryugu, successfully creating the crater, which is about 10 meters in diameter.

In 2005, NASA's Deep Impact project succeeded in creating an artificial crater on a comet but only for observation purposes.

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