The life of an asteroid is lonely. The rocks spill eons drift through the cold space vacuum.
But on Wednesday, the asteroid Ryu greeted a special visitor: the Japanese areas of Hayabusa-2 successfully landed on the surface of the asteroid at 21:06 ET (at 1:06 UTC on Thursday).
The Japanese Aerospace Agency (JAXA) launched Hayabusa-2 into space in December 2014. His mission is to explore and collect samples of Ryugu, a half-mile primitive asteroid that spins around the Sun at a distance of 131 million miles (211 million kilometers).
The probe reached its destination in June 2018, then began to work on observations, measurements of asteroid gravity and rehearsals to catch.
He blew up an asteroid with a copper plate and a box of explosives in April in order to loosen the rocks and open the material under the surface, and then successfully landed on Ryuga last night to collect the rock and soil.
The space vehicle captured the image below when it left the surface of the asteroid.
"The first photograph was taken at 10:06:32 JST (on board), and you can see the flying gravel. The second shot was at 10: 08: 53, where the darker area near the center is due to landing, "JAXA tweeted.
Ancient samples of rocks
Asteroids are made of stone and metal, and they take all kinds of bizarre forms, from the size of pebbles to 600 megala megaliths. Most of them hover in the belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, although the Ryuga orbit occasionally takes it between Mars and Earth.
Some asteroids refer to the dawn of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago, when the materials remaining from the formation of the planets were merged into these pieces of the rock. In this sense, asteroids can serve as time capsules: what scientists find in these primitive rocks can tell us a lot about the history of the solar system.
Ryugu is an asteroid of type C, which means it is rich in organic carbon molecules, water and possibly amino acids. Amino acids form building blocks for protein and are essential for the evolution of life on Earth. Some theories argue that the asteroid initially brought here amino acids, giving our planet seeds of life, although this is still being discussed.
Approximately three-quarters of the asteroids of our solar system have C-type. Hayabusa-2 aims to become the first mission to bring samples from this asteroid back to Earth.
The probe first landed on Ryuga in February and collected shallow samples just below the surface, but the mission chiefs decided to collect even deeper samples of the rocks, as this material was not subjected to severe weather from the space.
To achieve this, the probe had to move away from the asteroid, and then explode a 10-meter crater to the surface to gain access to the rock below it.
So in April, Hayabusa-2 fired and blown up a box of explosives into space that shot the copper plate into an asteroid.
Landing on Wednesday then made a splash in all released material.
"These pictures were taken before and after landing with a small monitor camera (CAM-H), the first one – 4 seconds before landing, the second – on the landing itself, and the third – 4 seconds after landing, to see the number of rocks that rise, "JAXA tweeted.
After he touched down, Hayabusa-2 collected a new set of specimens and left the surface of Ryugu. At the end of this year, he will start traveling for 5,5 million kilometers.
So far everything is on schedule.
[PPTD] Thanks for the support from around the world! Everyone in the control room makes a funny V-sign for the second landing! pic.twitter.com/YUz7sVmQPb
– [email protected] (@ haya2e_jaxa) July 11, 2019
NASA is on a similar mission
NASA is also studying a distant asteroid.
The mission of OSIRIS-REx Agency reached a significantly smaller asteroid of type C, Benn, in August 2018. But the probe did not land on the surface of Bennu; Instead, he rotated at a record distance.
It is planned that OSIRIS-REx will approach the surface of Bennu in July 2020, but the spacecraft is only about fifty seconds away. During this instantaneous instant, it will blow gaseous nitrogen to pick up dust and pebbles and collect samples. If everything goes according to the plan, it will return this material to Earth in 2023.
The surface of the asteroid turned out to be more rough than expected, however, and garbage flying from the space rock could be a threat to the orbiting space ship. Thus, NASA still selects its own site for sampling.
But Benn had already made a significant conclusion: in December, before he orbited around Benn, the probe found that the asteroid had ingredients for water (oxygen and hydrogen atoms combined together).
Though Bennu is too small to take liquid water, it's possible that once on its asteroid parent there was water that Benn had cut off from 700 million to 2 billion years ago.
Although NASA's asteroid exploration gathers more material samples than Japan, the JAXA team hopes that comparing patterns from two different locations on one asteroid will provide new insights on how long-term space exposition changes asteroids over time.
Both Benn and Ryuga could also teach scientists a great deal about the history of the solar system and potentially – if they contain organic materials – about the origins of life on Earth.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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