Japan’s Hayabusa2 Spacecraft Lands on Asteroid It Blasted a Hole In


When last we checked in with Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft in April, it had blown a crater in a large rock that orbits the sun. On Wednesday night (Thursday morning in Japan), the robotic probe went in for a landing, and appeared to have successfully touched down on the asteroid’s surface.

Hayabusa2 was launched in 2014 to collect samples from Ryugu, an asteroid that orbits the sun between Earth and Mars and has a diameter of just over a half mile. By returning to Earth next year with these specimens, the mission will help scientists seek clues about the solar system’s origins.

Earlier in the year, the spacecraft used explosives and a projectile to liberate rock from beneath the asteroid’s outer layers. In the latest operation, it descended to the surface of the asteroid before 9:30 p.m. Eastern time, attempting to swiftly grab a sample of material from the crater it made.

While the brief landing and return to a safe position above Ryugu appeared to be successful, the mission’s managers have not yet confirmed whether the spacecraft collected the sample it sought.

About three-quarters of asteroids in the solar system fall into the C-type.

This space rock was discovered in 1999 and not given a name until 2015. Ryugu is named after Ryugu-jo, or dragon’s palace — a magical undersea palace in a Japanese folk tale.

NASA and Japanese scientists plan to exchange samples of the two asteroids to compare the similarities and differences.

As the 2 in Hayabusa2 indicates, this is the second time that JAXA, the Japanese space agency, has sent a spacecraft to an asteroid.

Hayabusa2 is an improved version of Hayabusa, which visited a stony asteroid, Itokawa, in 2005. Despite several technical problems at Itokawa, Hayabusa returned a capsule to Earth in 2010 containing 1,500 particles from the asteroid.



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