A Japanese space probe arrived at an asteroid Wednesday after a 3 1/2-year journey to undertake a first-ever experiment: blow a crater in the rocky surface to collect samples and bring them back to Earth. The original Hayabusa endured a haphazard mission to the surface of the Itokawa asteroid in 2003.
The image, consisting of two photos of the asteroid said to be separated by 13 minutes, was released on the guitarist's website BrianMay.com and was described as the "very first (official!) stereo close-up of Asteroid 162173 RYUGU".
Ryugu is a so-called C-type asteroid, a kind that is thought to be relatively primitive.
The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2, which was launched in 2014, has just closed in on its target asteroid, the Ryugu, at a distance of about 25 miles.
Scientists targeted Ryugu specifically for this space mission because they believe the asteroid may contain trace amounts of primordial water and organic matter from the birth of the solar system.
"From a distance, Ryugu initially appeared round, then gradually turned into a square before becoming a handsome shape similar to fluorite [known as the "firefly stone" in Japanese]".
After more than three years of flight the probe is located at the observation position 20 kilometers from the space object with a diameter of 920 meters and is ready to start his research.
"From a distance, Ryugu initially appeared round, then gradually turned into a square before becoming a attractive shape similar to fluorite [a vibrant mineral sometimes used in jewelry]", project manager Yuichi Tsuda said in the JAXA statement.
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The probe will land on Ryugu in coming months and take samples "to clarify the origin of life", JAXA said in an earlier statement. The goal of the mission is to collect samples of the Ryugu asteroid and then return them to Earth for analysis.
Landings are planned for September as well as February and April next year.
June 26 photo of asteroid Ryugu. Then we will select where to touch down. "Touchdown means we get the surface material".
In order to collect samples from underneath the asteroid's surface, the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft will be blasting Ryugu with a two-kilogram (four-pound) copper projectile sometime before the final landing.
Scientists plan to use the impactor tool to extract fresh samples from beneath the asteroid's surface.
But getting the job done won't be easy, FOX News points out. "This fact increases the degrees of freedom for landing and the rover decent operations", said Yuichi Tsuda, the project manager for the spacecraft. However, he added there is also a "peak in the vicinity of the equator and a number of large craters, which makes the selection of the landing points both interesting and hard".
During this time, it will aim to deploy several landing craft to the surface, including small rovers and a German-built instrument package called Mascot (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout).
Once all the necessary data has been gathered, the Japanese spacecraft will head back home next December and is expected to return to Earth in 2020.