A JAPANESE spacecraft has fired a bullet into an asteroid 186million miles from Earth in an attempt to “take a bite” from its surface.
The Hayabusa-2 probe is collecting dust from the space rock that scientists hope to fly back to Earth in a daring world first mission.
Reuters The Hayabusa 2 probe has touched down on Ryugu (artist’s impression)
It landed on the dice-shaped space rock Ryugu just before 11:00pm on Thursday, nearly five years after it launched from Earth.
Space boffins at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) hope to gather crucial information about the early universe by studying Ryugu’s dust, and to do that they need to punch holes in it.
Hayabusa-2 arrived at the space rock last summer, and sent two robots down to its surface in September 2018.
After spending several months taking pictures and gathering data from afar, the probe finally touched down yesterday evening.
Jaxa The probe fired a metal “bullet” into the asteroid to kick up dust for collection
Jaxa This is the pressurised space gun used by Hayabusa-2 to fire the bullet
“We made a successful touchdown, including firing a bullet” into the Ryugu asteroid, Hayabusa 2 boss Yuichi Tsuda said.
“We made the ideal touchdown in the best conditions.”
Jaxa spokeswoman Chisato Ikuta said the control centre had “received data that shows that the probe is working normally and is healthy.”
Ryugu is an ancient asteroid that orbits the sun between Mars and Earth.
It’s thought to contain relatively large amounts of organic matter and water from 4.6billion years ago when the solar system was born.
By firing bullets into its surface, Jaxa hopes to kick up dust for capture by Hayabusa-2.
But we won’t know for sure if it was successful until the mission returns to Earth in 2020.
Mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa said the pellet fired this week – the first of three planned for the mission – “will lead to a leap, or new discoveries, in planetary science.”
Jaxa Ryugu is a dice-shaped asteroid 186million miles from Earth
Jaxa Hayabusa-2 (artist’s impression) will begin its return journey to Earth later this year
The thimble-sized pellets are made of a special metal called tantalum and reach speeds of 650 miles per hour.
Scientists are continuing to gather and examine data collected by Hayabusa 2.
It’s scheduled to leave the space rock and begin its long journey back to Earth in December 2019, returning 12 months later.
In between now and then, the probe will release a lander called Mascot and a large rover called Minerva-II-2.
JAXA/Twitter A pair of robots were sent to Ryugu by Hayabusa-2 last year. This image was snapped by one of the probes from its surface
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Ryugu may be a while from Earth, but it’s not the furthest object ever explored by scientists.
Nasa confirmed in January that a space probe had made a successful fly-by of the most distant object yet encountered in the solar system.
The probe went within 2,200 miles of the mysterious dwarf planet Ultima Thule before beaming images back to Nasa.
What do you think scientists will find on Ryugu? Let us know in the comments!
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