A newly released video from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows the critical moment when the Hayabusa2 spacecraft made contact with the surface of the Ryugu asteroid for an unprecedented second time.
On July 12, 2019, Japan’s Hayabusa2 made history by performing its second touchdown onto Ryugu, an 870-metre-wide asteroid located 300 million kilometres from Earth.
Hayabusa2 performed its first touchdown back in February, collecting material from the asteroid’s surface. This second touchdown was a bit different, involving the collection of deeper materials that were kicked up during a previous mission when the probe fired a projectile onto the asteroid, creating an artificial crater.
A stunning new composite video from JAXA shows Hayabusa2’s July 12 touchdown. The video was stitched together from a series of still images captured by the publicly-funded CAM-H instrument. The video is shown at 10-times normal speed to improve watchability, as Hayabusa2’s touchdown was conducted at slow speeds.
The video starts with Hayabusa2 around 8.5 metres above the surface. The spacecraft then descends, hitting the surface and kicking up a surprising amount of debris. By the end of the video, Hayabusa2 has retreated some 150 metres from the surface.
JAXA doesn’t know if debris successfully entered into Hayabusa2’s sampling horn, but given the large amount of debris seen in the video, there’s reason for optimism. We won’t know for sure until Hayabusa2 returns to Earth with its samples in late 2020.
Asteroids like Ryugu are remnants of the solar system’s ancient past, making them important objects of scientific inquiry. By studying the stuff that makes up this asteroid, scientists could gain a deeper understanding of the processes that led to the formation of planets and other celestial objects.
JAXA also released a composite image of the asteroid taken just a few moments before touchdown (above). The image was taken by the spacecraft’s wide-angle optical navigation camera (ONC-W1 and ONC-W2), and it shows Ryugu’s rugged, rock-strewn surface.
Looking at the image, it’s clear that Hayabusa2 faced no shortage of hazards during its two touchdown attempts. With the hard work now over, the spacecraft will stay in orbit around the asteroid for a while longer to monitor the impact site, and then head back home to Earth with, hopefully, its precious cargo.