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Home https://server7.kproxy.com/servlet/redirect.srv/sruj/smyrwpoii/p2/ Science https://server7.kproxy.com/servlet/redirect.srv/sruj/smyrwpoii/p2/ Japanese spacecraft successfully touches down an asteroid, grabbing a sample of dust

Japanese spacecraft successfully touches down an asteroid, grabbing a sample of dust



Around 200 million miles away from Earth, and Japanese spacecraft just grabbed a tiny sample of dirt off the surface of an asteroid – the second time humanity has ever pulled off such a feat. The precious samples are destined to come back to Earth, where they will be analyzed by scientists.

The spacecraft in possession of this newly acquired asteroid material is Hayabusa-2, operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). It was the successor to JAXA's original Hayabusa mission, which was the first to return samples of an asteroid to Earth in 2010. Launched in 201

4, Hayabusa-2 traveled through space for three and a half years, arriving at an asteroid named Ryugu in June 2018 Ever since, Hayabusa-2 has been hanging around Ryugu, analyzing its surface and practicing for today's big sample of grab

Late last night, the spacecraft fired its engine, initiating the vehicle's slow descent to Ryugu's surface. Then, when Hayabusa was hovering just above the asteroid, it tapped a horn-like appendage onto the ground. As soon as that happened, a bullet-like projectile within the horn shot outward, stabbing the asteroid and creating a bunch of dust and fragments.

Now, Hayabusa-2 will hold onto that material until it leaves Ryugu and returns to Earth. And when these samples arrive at our planet, they could tell us a bit more about what our cosmic neighborhood was like a billion years ago. "From a scientific perspective, it's going back to the dawn of the solar system," Dante Lauretta, chief investigator for NASA's asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-REx, who has worked with the Hayabusa-2 team, tells The Verge . "These asteroids are the first rocks that formed around the Sun before the planets existed."

Hayabusa-2 is hoping to bring back between 10 to 100 milligrams for study. However, it is not clear exactly how much sample material the spacecraft scooped up. JAXA does not have a way to measure how much Hayabusa-2 material has been collected. However, the agency says that every maneuver went according to plan and that Hayabusa-2 issued the command to shoot its bullet as expected.




Image: JAXA

In fact, the original some samples in his belly. Hayabusa was still able to get a sample from his asteroid, Itokawa, even though his bullet projectile failed. During two touchdown attempts, data showed that the bullet firing mechanism did not work. But some dust still got kicked into the sample collector when Hayabusa touched the surface of Itokawa. "If they make contact with the asteroid, something will get into the sample chamber," says Lauretta.

Still, collecting samples from an asteroid is an incredibly difficult process. It requires pinpoint precision around an object where there is very little gravity. This means that the momentum forces, like the pressure from solar radiation or any gases coming from the spacecraft, can have a big effect and push the vehicle off course. "When you are in these microgravity environments around small asteroids, [small forces] kind of push you around substantially," Lauretta says.


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