Japanese probe on an asteroid 180 million miles from Earth

Asteroid Ryugu, photographed by the japanese space probe Hayabusa2 on June 23, 2018, from a distance of 25 miles (40 km).

(JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, Aizu University, AIST)

The japanese space probe Hayabusa2 is off to the asteroid goal prior to a scheduled rendez-vous only a few days from now.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) released several new images that Hayabusa2 snapped recently of the asteroid Ryugu, the form of which is now become clear.

“From a distance, Ryugu initially appeared rounded, then gradually changed into a square, before a beautiful form similar to fluorite (known as the ‘firefly ‘ stone’ in Japanese),” Hayabusa2 project manager Yuichi Tsuda wrote today (June 25) in a description of the latest photos, that the probe took Saturday and Sunday (June 23 and 24), at a distance of 25 miles (40 km). [Photos: Japan’s Hayabusa2 Asteroid Mission in Pictures]

“Now, craters are visible, rocks are visible, and the geographical characteristics are seen to vary from place to place,” Tsuda added. “This form of Ryugu is scientifically surprising and also poses a few technical problems.”

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  • Tsuda added


A number of earlier images, taken from 62 miles to 124 miles (100 to 200 km away), revealing the topography to suggest that the 3,000 feet wide (900 meters) asteroid has probably had a complex evolutionary history, JAXA officials said. Scientists say asteroids in Ryugu, the size of the range may be fragments of a larger parent company.

“As we approached Ryugu and were able to distinguish individual features in the asteroid topology, it became clear that Ryugu is a country of rich terrain,” mission principal investigator Seiji Sugita said in another statementpublished Friday (June 21). “Clusters of rock and roll on the surface. Among these, a large rocky mass (about 150 m [490 ft] across) is on the upper part of Ryugu because of the lighter color (higher reflectivity). The belt-shaped ring of peaks around the equator are also slightly brighter than their surroundings.

“This color difference,” Sugita added, “can indicate a difference in composition of the material and the size of the particles in the shape of the rock. We also see many sunken regions that look like craters. These depressions are created in collisions with other celestial bodies. A structure that looks like a grove is also visible.”

JAXA has a number of Hayabusa2 is Ryugu photos in the past few days. For example, a different set showed that the asteroid rotates perpendicular to the path of each 7.5 hours. Ryugu seems to be also similar in shape to the asteroid Bennu, the target of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid-sampling mission, and the asteroid 2008 EV5, the aim of the proposed European MarcoPolo-R mission, which ultimately was not selected for the launch.

Hayabusa2 left the Earth in 2014 and is scheduled to arrive at Ryugu — that is about 180 million miles (290 million km from the Earth at the time — Wednesday (June 27) or thereabouts.

Other touchdown activities are scheduled in February 2019 and, in April or May 2019. In addition, Hayabusa2 will generate a crater with an impactor in March or April of 2019, and a second rover deployment in July. (Eventually, the mothership will deploy a total of three rovers and a lander on Ryugu surface.)

Hayabusa2 will also be a spiral down to collect samples of the fresh crater. If all goes according to plan, these monsters come to Earth on a special return capsule in the vicinity of the end of 2020.

Such transactions are complicated somewhat by Ryugu the striking shape, as Tsuda mentioned in his reference to the “technical problems.”

That form “means that we expect that the direction of the force of gravity on the wide area of the surface of the asteroid, not directly down,” Tsuda said. “We must, therefore, a detailed investigation of these properties to formulate our future operational plans.”

Hayabusa2 is following in the footsteps of the original Hayabusa mission, which made history in 2010 when it returned small pieces of the asteroid Itokawa to the Earth.

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