A Japanese probe has reached the Ryugu asteroid and sent back the first photographs

After a journey of nearly four years, Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe has reached the asteroid Ryugu. Its goal is to collect samples of the space rock’s matter and transport them to Earth, which is scheduled to happen in 2020.

The Hayabusa 2 probe was launched in 2014 from the Tanegashima spaceport. Its goal is to study the Ryugu asteroid, take próbek rocks and deliver them back to Earth. A few days ago, the probe made an approach to the space rock and took the first photographs of it.

Later this year, the probe will launch a lander, który will download próbk of matter. These will reach Earth’s laboratoriesów 2020. Asteroids will be lowered to the surface róIt also has three small-sizedóin the rover.

A photo released by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows the unusual shape of Ryugu, whichóry resembles a diamond or a doughnut – a toy set in rotation around its axis. Photographs taken from a distance of 40 kilometersów show the surface of a space rock riddled with nodules and craters.

– From a distance, Ryugu initially appeared to be a round object, and then gradually changed into a square before taking on a fluorite-like shape, said project manager Yuichi Truda.

Ryugu from a distance of about 40 kilometersów. Photo. JAXA

The Hayabusa 2 probe (Hayabusa means falcon in Japanese) is a nearly identical copy of the Hayabusa probe, która in 2005 took próbki from the asteroid Itokawa. Próbki came to Earth five years pólater. Hayabusa was the first mission in which theórej managed to bring back the próbki from an asteroid to our planet.

Ryugu belongs to Class C asteroids and is about one kilometer wide – about three times as wide as Itokawa, but four times less than comet 67P/Churiumov–Gierasimienko visited by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe. Ryugu’s orbit crosses the orbit of Earth and Mars.

– We don’t know much about C-class asteroids – admitted Lucy McFadden of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. However, researchers believe that such space rocks have a composition similar to that of the early days of the Solar System.

The probe’s first maneuvers were successful. Hayabusa 2 has adjusted its speed to the asteroid and is now flying the same course as Ryugu right next to it. The probe used a laser to determine its position in relation to the space rock, which made it possible to determine the exact distance between the objects. This will allow the ship to maneuver appropriately.

Amongód first measurementsów made by Hayabusa 2 was the rotational period of Ryugu, which is the time it takes to make one revolution wokół its own axis, whichóry is about 7.5 hours. – This is good news, as faster rotation could make it more difficult to reach the surface, assessed mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa of JAXA. – The first images surprised us. The bulge wokół róThe penetration of rocks is usually associated with much faster rotating objects, Yoshikawa added.

Using a camera and an infrared spectrometer, researchers map the asteroid’s surface. The temperature at each will also be determinedóIn different regions of the rock. All this data will be key to deciding in którym place to plant the lander and rover. The maneuver is expected to take place around October.

The lander is called MASCOT. It is an unusual design. The device is designed to move by leapsów. Like a flea or grasshopper. Each jump will allow the machine to move several tens of metersów. MASCOT has a built-in stabilizer thatóry will straighten the lander so that it móhead use an instrumentów installed on board and communicate with the mother ship. MASCOT does not have any solar panels. Its batteries will allow it to operate for several hours.

The retrieval of próbek is to be dealt with by Hayabusa 2. The plan is to launch a missile toward the asteroid, whichóhe momentum of the impact will eject matter into space. It is this dust that will be collected and transported to Earth. Researchers are hoping for about 10 grams ofóin matter.

Chemical and isotopic analyses of the rocks, performed in space by Hayabusa 2 and then in ground laboratories – may pomóc explain the origin of the Earth, especially the water found on our planet. Many scientistsów believes that Earth’s oceans were formed by bombardment of its surface by water-rich asteroids or comets.

The study of asteroids is for scientistsóin very important. The material with which theórego were formed 4.5 billion years ago has not actually undergone any changes. This can not be said of the construction of asteroids or the moonóin, where tectonic movements, erosion and other factors caused it to constantly change.