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Japan Makes History as Hayabusa2 Attempts to Collect Underground Samples From Asteroid



A remarkable image taken a mere 4 seconds after touchdown, with floating debris clearly visible.
Image: JAXA

Earlier today, Japan's Hayabusa2 may have been the first probe in history to collect material from the surface of an asteroid-a mission that could yield important insights into the early stages of our solar system. (19659005) "From the data sent from Hayabusa2, it has been confirmed that the touchdown sequence, that is, including the discharge of a projectile for sampling, was completed successfully, "the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced in a press release issued earlier today.

The probe performed its brief touchdown at 10:06 am.

This is now the second time Hayabusa2 has visited the surface of Ryugu-an 870-meter-wide 2,854-foot) asteroid located 300 million kilometers (186 million miles) from Earth. The first touchdown happened this past February, during which time the probe fired a projectile onto the surface of Ryugu's surface, kicking up the surface material, which it then collected.

This second visit is noteworthy in that Hayabusa2 attempted to collect underground material, was done before. Back in April, the probe fired an "impactor," and a copper bullet, onto Ryugu's surface, which produced an artificial crater surrounded by underground material. This stuff is valuable to scientists, as it is shielded from the effects of space weathering, including the effects of cosmic rays and charged particles pouring off the Sun.

This second operation to visit the asteroid's surface began on July 9, with Hayabusa2's slow journey to the surface starting on July 10. When it reached a distance of 30 meters (98 feet) and marker it had deposited earlier and autonomously adjusted its trajectory accordingly. The probe made a brief landing at a site designated the C01-Cb region, which is about 20 meters from the artificial crater.

The touchdown itself lasted just a few seconds, during which time the probe fired a small projectile onto the surface . This produced a field of floating debris that fell into its collection tube (or so we hope). Hayabusa2 then rose back to a safe distance, where it will continue to monitor the asteroid and the sampling site.

This mission was potentially risky, as Hayabusa2 had already attempted to collect surface samples, and failure here could have disabled the spacecraft, preventing it from delivering its valuable cargo back to Earth. "It was a success and a big success," said Hayabusa 2 team member Takashi Kubota at a press conference held earlier today, as reported by New Scientist. "We achieved success in all scheduled procedures."

This mission was the last major operation to be performed by Hayabusa2, aside from its journey back to Earth. The probe is expected to return late next year with its samples

Interestingly enough, the AFP reports, the sample canisters will be deposited into Earth's atmosphere for re-entry, but the probe itself will remain in space. Accordingly, JAXA is contemplating an extended mission, in which Hayabusa2 could be dispatched to visit another asteroid


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