Historic Asteroid First Was 'Better Than Perfect'

Japan's Hayabusa2 collected underground samples
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 11, 2019 1:07 AM CDT
Space Probe Completes Historic Asteroid First
A monitor shows Hayabusa2 project team members celebrating the spacecraft's second touchdown on an asteroid in the control room, at the press center of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Sagamihara Campus in Sagamihara, southwest of Tokyo, Thursday, July 11, 2019.   (Yu Nakajima/Kyodo News via AP)

Japan's space agency says data transmitted from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft indicated it successfully landed on a distant asteroid Thursday and completed its historic mission of collecting underground samples that scientists hope will provide clues to the origin of the solar system. Hayabusa2 had created itself a landing crater in April by dropping a copper impactor. Thursday's mission was to land inside that crater and collect underground samples that scientists believe contain more valuable data, the AP reports. Hayabusa2 is the first to successfully collect underground soil samples from an asteroid and comes ahead of a similar mission planned by a NASA team at another asteroid.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, says it has confirmed data showing Hayabusa2 touched down and rose safely after collecting the samples as planned. The actual landing was just few seconds. During the touchdown, Hayabusa2 was to extend its sampling tube to the ground, shoot a pinball-size bullet to crack the surface, and suck up the debris that got blasted off. Landing was a challenge for Hayabusa2 because of a risk of getting hit by dust and debris that remain at the crater, says Takashi Kubota, a Hayabusa2 project member at JAXA. "Everything went perfectly, even better than perfect, as if Hayabusa were reading our minds," he says. The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea dragon palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 180 million miles from Earth. Hayabusa2 is expected to leave the asteroid to return to Earth at the end of next year, with the samples for scientific study.

(More Hayabusa stories.)

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