• In the night on Friday has the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 visited the asteroid Ryugu and took material samples.
  • Next year, the probe will return to Earth along with the collected material.
  • Scientists hope the mission will provide insights into the origin of the Earth.

At 11.49 pm Central European Time it is almost done; in the control center in Sagamihara, just outside Tokyo, employees are waving their arms high and cheers are coming in, as the Japanese space agency Jaxa reported on the livestream. It will then take another 30 minutes for all the data to be tested until everyone in the control room can be sure: An unmanned Japanese spacecraft has just taken samples from the asteroid Ryugu some 300 million kilometers from Earth.

Hayabusa2 Initially, samples were taken from the surface through a type of proboscis. The material was previously whirled up by bombardment with a ball. Further samples are to be obtained in a similarly spectacular manner: A so-called Impactor, a piece of copper two kilograms in weight, is discarded together with an explosive charge and fired at the ground. This creates an artificial crater.

Thus, the Impactor performs the same function as the hammers of a geologist on earth. This only learns by smashing a stone details about its nature, says Ralf Jaumann, planetary scientist from the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

Due to the very low gravity on Ryugu – only 60,000th of the Earth's gravity – the Impactor falls so slowly that the spacecraft can reach the other side of the asteroid to protect against flying rock. After that, return Hayabusa2 back and approaches the asteroid to within a few yards, so she can again absorb samples from the beaten hole. So it's not about landings in the true sense, but more about "touchdowns," says Jaumann.

Data for the defense of asteroids

Ryugu's orbit around the sun cuts that of the earth. Therefore, he belongs to a group of asteroids that could also be dangerous to the earth. If such a celestial body were racing toward the earth, it would not do much to bombard it, Jaumann explains. Because that would only lead to the fact that several small fragments fly with the same energy to the earth.

Rather, one would have to divert a potentially threatening asteroid over a longer period of its orbit. For this it is important to know its composition. For this scenario, the Hayabusa2-Mission valuable data. In addition, Ryugu is about as old as the earth. However, while this has changed by geological processes, the asteroid probably still has approximately the same shape as in its creation. Therefore, he also provides information about the origin of our planet.

In the coming year, the probe is to return to Earth. Their predecessor model had brought soil samples of an asteroid to Earth for the first time in 2010. Hayabusa2 started in December 2014 in Japan and reached its destination after almost four years in the All End of June last year. Since then she has been orbiting the sun with Ryugu.

The asteroid has its name from the underwater palace of a dragon king, which occurs in the Japanese tradition. Hayabusa2 He had other gauges on his way to the asteroid. One of them is the "Mascot" robot developed by DLR and the French space agency CNES. He landed on the asteroid last October and spent several hours exploring it until his battery died down. While "Mascot" stays on Ryugu, the mission of the probe goes Hayabusa2 now on.

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