Hayabusa 2, a Japanese space probe successfully landed on an asteroid called Ryugu, over 300 million km from Earth and will collect rock samples from the cosmic body to help better understand the formation of our solar system.
Named after a falcon, Hayabusa 2 had been studying asteroid Ryugu since last year and after conducting surface observations in October, the space probe fired up its propulsion and landed on the celestial body on Thursday. Japan now aims to conduct advanced surface study by collecting rock samples from Ryugu and bring back to Earth. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA said that these samples will be used for deeper understanding of the formation of solar system, earth and the possible clues about origin of life.
However, getting the samples is not as easy as scraping down the surface and collecting rocks in the extremely weak gravitational field. So Hayabusa 2 had to use a device called a sampler horn that fires a projectile made of the metal tantalum – basically a bullet on the asteroid’s surface. The projectile creates small fragments of rocks from the rugged surface of Ryugu, which will float around the surface due to low gravity and can be collected by the space probe.
After collecting samples for few months, Hayabusa 2 will take off from Ryugu in December 2019 and return to Earth by the end of 2020 with its precious cargo of celestial samples. The entire mission is termed as “nail-bitingly significant” because Ryugu is a C-class asteroid that has never been reached out by humans before, let aside bringing samples back home. But for now, even a successful landing is praiseworthy, because in worldly parameters, it is the equivalent of hitting a 6 cm target from 20,000 kilometers distance – equivalent to aiming 6 cms in Brazil from Japan. And that is an achievement on its own for JAXA.