A video captured by the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa-2, broadcast by the Japanese space agency (JAXA), shows the moment when the probe touched down on the surface of asteroid Ryugu on February 21.
The mind-bending footage shows fragments of dust rising from the ground as the spaceship approaches the surface and fires a projectile made of tantalum at 300 meters per second into the asteroid’s surface, to raise particles and collect them in order to return them back to Earth for study.
Hayabusa-2 has been exploring Ryugu since its arrival in June 2018, after a journey of three and a half years from Earth.
As explained by the Japanese Space Agency, it took over a day for the spacecraft to descend from its orbit, although the contact with the asteroid itself lasted only for a second.
Assuming all went well, Hayabusa2 scooped is expected to have collected small of asteroidal debris into its sampling container. The spacecraft is expected to deliver the samples to Earth for analysis in late 2020.
Since there is no ‘sample detector’ inside the spacecraft, it is impossible to know whether or not the sample collection was successful.
But the spacecraft’s mission is far from over.
The Japanese Space Agency plans to use the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft to fire an explosive projectile into the asteroid during the first week of April.
Scientists want to create a crater near Ryugu’s equator which will hopefully kick up more fragments the spacecraft can then collect as it makes its way for a second touchdown in May.
The second touchdown zone has still not been selected but researchers plant to look for an ideal site in the next few weeks.
The images and footage were taken by a camera mounted on Hayabusa-2 that was funded with donations from the general public worth around 12 million yen.
Hayabusa 2, which launched in December 2014, will remain in orbit around Ryugu at least until November.
The Japanese mission isn’t the only one which is expected to collect asteroid samples and return them back to Earth.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is currently orbiting asteroid Bennu since December 2018 and is expected to collect samples from the asteroid’s surface and return them to Earth in 2023.