FEB 26, 2019 5:14 PM PST

Japan's Hayabusa-2 Probe Lands on Asteroid for Sample Collection

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

It was only a few months ago that the Japanese space agency’s Hayabusa-2 mission dropped a couple of ‘hopping’ rovers on asteroid 162173 Ryugu’s surface to capture photographs and explore the space rock’s physical surface features, but the mission’s most crucial task comprising of surface sample collection was still to come.

An artist's impression of the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft landing on 162173 Ryugu.

Image Credit: Reuters via BBC

Just last week, however, JAXA ordered the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft to land on 162173 Ryugu’s surface to move forward with the sample collection phase of its mission. Shortly after a successful touchdown, the probe fired a tantalum bullet into the asteroid’s surface and later collected airborne dust and debris before returning to its original orbit around the object.

"We made a successful touchdown, including firing a bullet," said Yuichi Tsuda, the project manager of JAXA’s Hayabusa-2 mission, in response to the successful landing. "We made the ideal touchdown in the best conditions."

Related: Learn why JAXA put two landers on 162173 Ryugu's surface

In an image captured soon after the probe left the asteroid’s surface, a dark spot where it previously resided is discernable. It’s unclear if the spacecraft’s thrusters produced this dark spot during landing/liftoff or of it was a result of the projectile striking and disturbing the surface in preparation for sample collection:

The 'dark spot' left behind by the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft.

Image Credit: JAXA

As you might come to expect, the Hayabusa-2 mission didn’t collect this sample for nothing. The eventual goal is to return it to Earth by 2020 so that scientists can analyze it and learn more about the space rock’s chemical makeup and history. Now that the spacecraft is safely back in orbit around 162173 Ryugu, engineers at JAXA can begin planning the return trip to Earth.

162173 Ryugu is of particular interest to astronomers because it has been identified as a C-Type asteroid and may hold vital clues about what it may have been like in the early solar system. Adding to that, 162173 Ryugu is a near-Earth asteroid (NEA) that orbits the Sun in a potentially-hazardous trajectory; sometimes coming within one lunar distance of our planet. That said, it poses a possible threat of collision with Earth.

Related: How much damage could an asteroid impact do?

Notably, JAXA isn’t the only space agency undertaking an asteroid sample return mission in the same of science; so too is NASA. The American space agency’s OSIRIS-REx mission is currently visiting the asteroid Bennu and is expected to return a surface sample to Earth by 2023 so that scientists can take a closer look at the space rock’s composition.

Without a doubt, it ought to be interesting to see what these asteroid sample return missions can teach us. Astronomers still have many questions concerning the solar system and its formation, and missions like these have the potential to help fill the gaps in our knowledge.

Source: BBC (1), (2)

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
OCT 21, 2019
Space & Astronomy
OCT 21, 2019
Here's Why NASA Wants to Crash a Spacecraft Into an Asteroid
Yes, you read that right; NASA would like to slam a purposefully built spacecraft into the surface of an asteroid. While this idea might seem like a substa...
OCT 28, 2019
Space & Astronomy
OCT 28, 2019
How Much Do You Know About NASA's Voyager Missions?
NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft each launched in 1977 for a unique opportunity to explore the solar system’s outermost planets in unprecedent...
NOV 18, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 18, 2019
Say Hello to the Largest Star Ever Discovered
There are so many stars in the modern universe that we couldn’t ever hope to count them all. Many are so distant from us that we can’t even see...
DEC 01, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 01, 2019
Astronomers Are Observing the Birth of a Binary Star System
Stars are easily observable in the night sky, either by the naked eye or with the aid of a powerful telescope, but while we know they exist and we understa...
DEC 31, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 31, 2019
Why Does This Star Dim Unpredictably?
KIC 8462852, also known as Tabby’s Star or the infamous ‘alien megastructure star,’ is peculiar because the star’s light seems to d...
FEB 02, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 02, 2020
Everything You Need to Know About Solar Orbiter
The Sun is something you see every day when you look up at the daytime sky, but despite residing right in plain sight, there’s still so much about th...
Loading Comments...