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Japan’s space probe captured material beneath the asteroid surface

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Japan’s space probe captured material beneath the asteroid surface

Hayabusa2 made its first touchdown on Ryugu asteroid with a relatively dark surface and almost zero gravity in February 2019.

Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe made its second successful touchdown on asteroid Ryugu on July 12, 2019. It has become the first ever spacecraft to collect material from beneath the surface of an asteroid as reported by Nature.

The asteroid mission first reached Ryugu, a kilometer, wide asteroid with a relatively dark surface and almost zero gravity in June 2018 and made its first touchdown in February 2019.

After a month, in April, the probe hit the surface of Ryugu with a pellet and made a 10-meter wide crater. Not just that but it also exposed the materials under the surface of the asteroid that was so far protected from the harsh effects of cosmic rays and charged particles of solar wind blasting through space.

In its latest mission, Hayabusa2 hovered outside the crater without landing on the surface. The probe gathers samples of the material by shooting down a projectile from its one-meter long cylindrical horn. It then captured the fragments rebounding from the surface.

The sample horn was attached to the bottom of the spacecraft. It folded back inward so that the sand gravel can be hung on the cuff.

Lucy McFadden, a planetary astronomer at National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland said:

“This is a cornucopia of a mission.”

Hayabusa2 is expected to deliver the materials to earth by the end of 2020 when it returns back to earth.

Until then there is no way of knowing how much material the probe has collected in its touchdown operation. This was reported to Nature by mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency Institute of Space Sagamihara.

The collected materials may help JAXA researchers to understand why Ryugu is so dark. It is actually darker than a meteorite. They will also try to find out whether the April impact made the material darker or whether the crater’s colour is typical of Ryugu’s composition and the surface has been lightened by solar radiation.

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