An unprecedented view of the surface of an asteroid located around 300 million kilometers away.
Update; 2020. The Hayabusa2 spacecraft has delivered asteroid surface samples back to Earth. The spacecraft is currently en route to study another asteroid. Hayabusa2 recovered 5 grams of asteroid surface materials, much more than scientists had initially thought.
The Japanese Hayabusa2 mission continues to surprise us. This time with an unprecedented view of the surface features located on asteroid Ryugu, they happen to resemble meteorites that occasionally impact the Earth closely.
On October 3, 2018, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft launched a landing module to the Ryugu asteroid’s surface from an altitude of around 41 meters. The MASCOT module struck a rock and bounced 17 meters along the asteroid’s surface before staying face down inside a depression on the asteroid.
But that was not the end for MASCOT.
The landing module was able to spin around and take some incredible images of Ryugu’s geological features, both in the 6-minute descent and during the 17 hours, it was on the surface before its batteries ran out, leaving the modules stranded on the asteroid as the massive rock makes its way around the sun.
Scientists have published these images today and say that the photographs could have very interesting implications in our understanding of asteroids, comets, and our solar system’s cosmic bodies.
Analysis of MASCOT’s images has revealed that the surface of Asteroid Ryugu closely resembles meteorites found on Earth known as carbonaceous chondrites.
“What we have from these images is really knowing how the rocks and material are distributed on the surface of this asteroid, what the weathering history of this stuff is, and the geologic context,” explained Ralf Jaumann, lead author of the study, in an interview with Gizmodo.
“It’s the first information on this kind of material in its original environment.”
R. Jaumann published a study titled, “Images from the surface of asteroid Ryugu show rocks similar to carbonaceous chondrite meteorites” in the journal Science, detailing the surface features and the implications of the findings.
The images taken by MASCOT revealed different types of rocks on Ryugu’s surface, including dark rocks, crumbled as cauliflowers, and brighter and smoother rocks, all between a few centimeters to tens of meters wide.
But there seemed to be no visible dust; Which suggests that there must be some process that removes dust that causes it to be lost in space or absorbed more deeply into the asteroid. Seen up close, these rocks seem to contain bright parts, inlays of some different material, according to the article published in Science.
Those inlays are exciting: they look bluish and reddish, Jaumann said, and they seem to be similar in size to the inlays found in the carbonaceous chondrites found on Earth. That is important.
“Carbonaceous material is the primordial material of the solar system, from which all planets and moons originate,” Jaumann said to Space.com.
“Thus, if we want to understand the planetary formation, including the formation of Earth, we need to understand its building parts.”
Update December 21, 2020. Hayabusa has successfully delivered the alien material recovered from the asteroid’s surface. The material are being studied by scientists on Earth, while the spacecraft is en route to study entirely different asteroids.
Analysis of the samples returned from the surface of asteroid Ryugu revel that the mission was a success, recovering 5 grams of asteroid materials, far more than the target set forth by scientists.
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