Images show prized, mysterious material obtained from distant asteroid

11 Jul 2019

Hayabusa2 approaching Ryugu. Image: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Japan’s Hayabusa2 has achieved another major success in its bid to return samples of an asteroid’s interior to Earth.

Following on from its successful ‘bombing’ of the asteroid Ryugu in April of this year, Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft has reached another important milestone. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced that, for the second time, the craft landed on the asteroid’s surface.

This time around, it had collected samples obtained from beneath the surface after an explosive device the size of a baseball was detonated to give Hayabusa2 access to a wealth of important scientific material. Potentially containing organic minerals and water, the material will give scientists an unprecedented look at what our solar system was like during its birth some 4.6bn years ago.

A successful ending, but not the end

In a brief statement confirming the news, JAXA said: “From the data sent from Hayabusa2, it has been confirmed that the touchdown sequence, including the discharge of a projectile for sampling, was completed successfully. Hayabusa2 is functioning normally, and thus the second touchdown ended with success.”

Earlier this morning, JAXA also released a series of images taken immediately before and after the spacecraft’s touchdown on Ryugu showing the gravel blasted out from beneath the surface which is now scattered across the asteroid’s surface.

Another shot taken just four seconds after touchdown showed a considerable number of rocks rising following the spacecraft’s arrival.

In fact, one Twitter user has compiled the sequence into a GIF showing Hayabusa2’s descent, touchdown and the resulting cloud of debris.

As explained in The Guardian, this latest landing was a delicate procedure having began its descent yesterday (10 July) from a stationary position 20km above the surface of Ryugu. It eventually landed at a targeted area about 20 metres from the blast site.

The spacecraft then collected samples using a small tube as it floated up. Based on the images returned from the spacecraft, the mission’s manager Makoto Yoshikawa said: “It would be safe to say that extremely attractive materials are near the crater.”

If the mission is a complete success, scientists will have these samples in front of them when Hayabusa2 returns to Earth in December 2020.

Hayabusa2 approaching Ryugu. Image: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic