Japanese Spacecraft Lands on Asteroid, Collects Samples and Snaps Incredible Image

In February of 2019, The Japanese space agency JAXA made history as its Hayabusa2 spacecraft touched down on asteroid Ryugu, collected a soil sample, and lifted off into orbit around it again.

As the spacecraft was returning to orbit after collecting soil samples, it snapped a mind-bending image of the asteroid’s surface, revealing ‘mysterious dark marks’.

The Spacaecctf reached the asteroid in June of 2018 and even sent two miniature rovers to explore the surface of Ryugu in September.

The miniature rovers were designed to ‘hop around’ the asteroid and take images as well as collect data.

The surface of asteroid Ryugu.
The first image of the surface of asteroid Ryugu. Image Credit: JAXA.

But the spacecraft’s mission wasn’t just to send a pair of rovers to its surface.

Its main goal was to land on the asteroid, dug into it, collect samples and return them safely back to Earth, where scientists will have a chance to study them.

The mission is so far a total success.

The spacecraft managed to collect samples from the asteroid on February 22, when Hayabusa 2 landed on the asteroid’s surface and fired a projectile into it.

At a speed of roughly 300 meters per second, the impact loosed the soil kicking up material around it. The spacecraft then collected the material into is specially designed compartment.

Seen here is the Hayabusa 2 space probe after successfully landing on Ryugu. Image Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
Seen here is the Hayabusa 2 space probe after successfully landing on Ryugu. Image Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

To show off its success, Hayabusa2 snapped a few images to show us what it did.

JAXA has recently revealed a new image taken one minute after touchdown, when the Hayabusa2 had already lifted off from the asteroid, back at Ryugu from an altitude of about 25 meters.

In the image, we observe the sapcacftt’s shadow as it makes its way back into orbit around Ryugu, along with ‘mysterious dark marks’ on the landing site that were not present before touchdown.

In the following two images, we see purple circles that mark the landing site before, to the left, and after, to the right.

Image Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo & collaborators.
Image Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo & collaborators.

The red arrow on the image indicates the guiding target marker Hayabusa2 dropped onto the asteroid prior to touchdown.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) wrote on its website “that at the moment, the reason for the discoloration is unknown but it may be due to the grit that was blown upwards by the spacecraft thrusters or bullet (projectile).”

What exactly caused the discoloration seen in the above image is something that scientists will be able to better understand in the near future as Hayabusa2 will perform two more sample collection touchdowns before it leaves the asteroid and embarks on its long journey home in December of 2019.

Hayabusa2 Project
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