Japan’s Hayabusa2 (Photo Credit: JAXA)
On Thursday, Earth had yet another close encounter with a giant asteroid named 2019 OK. A 328-feet-wide asteroid 2019 OK zoom past the Earth on 6:52 am (IST) at a speed of nearly 55,000 miles (88,500 kilometres) per hour. The closest asteroid 2019 OK came to Earth was just under 45,000 miles (72,500 km). We were fortunate that the space rock did not collide with the Earth. Well, the researchers, scientists and astronomers of different space agencies across the world are trying to unearth the mystery of the asteroids i.e. origination, material space rock is made of etc. In the meantime, Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe successfully landed on a distant asteroid with an aim to collect samples that could shed light on the history of the solar system. And now, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has released an incredible new animation that shows the Hayabusa2 spacecraft completing its second touchdown operation, on July 11.
The animation displays the spacecraft touching down on, and then receding from, the asteroid Ryugu. Hayabusa2 took the video of the touchdown with its camera named Cam-H, which is pointed past the craft’s sampling mechanism. It is to be noted that Cam-H, was installed with the help of public donations.
In the animated video released by JAXA, we can see the craft’s sampler horn picked up new samples from asteroid Ryugu. Before landing on the asteroid, Hayabusa2 dropped a bright, white marker onto Ryugu’s surface and it helped mission staff to slowly and carefully land the craft in the correct spot.
As soon as Hayabusa2 touched down on Ryugu, the spacecraft fired a bullet into the asteroid, blasting up debris. Material from Ryugu made its way into Hayabusa2’s sampler horn, and then the craft lifted back up, leaving the asteroid.
Importantly, the touchdown was the second time Hayabusa2 has landed on Ryugu, after a first successful landing in February. The spacecraft is expected to leave the asteroid later this year and return home at the end of next year.
Hayabusa2 mission was launched in December 2014, and has a price tag of around 30 billion yen ($270 million). On the other hand, Ryugu is named after an undersea dragon palace in a Japanese folktale and is about 300 million kilometres from Earth. Ryugu, about 900 metres in diameter, is extremely rocky on its surface and has signs organic compounds.