Japanese asteroid probe discovers space rock Ryugu made close pass of Sun

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft built and operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), fired a 5-g metal projectile into the surface of the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu, a spinning top-shaped body with 1 km across and some 350 million km from Earth

By Author  |  Published: 10th May 2020  6:26 pm
space rock Ryugu
Hayabusa2 Source: Twitter

Hyderabad: Japan’s Hayabusa2 asteroid probe has already accomplished a lot. After launching in 2014 and spending several years travelling to intercept the space rock known as Ryugu, it made many key observations and even took samples of the asteroid before departing and heading back to Earth.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft built and operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), fired a 5-g metal projectile into the surface of the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu, a spinning top-shaped body with 1 km across and some 350 million km from Earth. This projectile disrupted the surface of the asteroid, allowing Hayabusa2 to capture some of the lofted material and tuck it safely away on board. Having departed from Ryugu in November 2019, Hayabusa2 is expected to fly past Earth in late 2020 and release its samples in a reentry capsule for detailed analyses in labs across the world.

The biggest discoveries are sure to be made once scientists start working on Ryugu’s samples. Researchers are studying the data that the asteroid probe sent back over many months and they just discovered something very interesting about the asteroid rock. Apparently, the asteroid has had some uncomfortably close brushes with another object in our solar system, the Sun.

When Hayabusa2 dipped down to pick sample of Ryugu, the close-up images it fired back to Earth offered additional details. Researchers and scientists believe the red tones in the spectral images are a clue that Ryugu made a close pass of the Sun at some point in its history. The research team believes this ‘solar detour’ took place around 300,000 years ago and brought the rock close enough to Sun to scar its surface with a reddish tint.

When Hayabusa2 fired its projectile, a cloud of redder, dark pebbles and fine grains blew outward before falling back onto the surface. The team concluded that these particles, originally only on the exposed surfaces of boulders, landed all over the sampling site, turning it from a slightly blue colour to slightly red.

This observation offered the team an insight into the latitudinal “stripes” on Ryugu. Exposed material, reddened by the Sun and by space weathering, slowly moves under the asteroid’s weak gravity from the topographically high equator and poles to the topographically low mid-altitudes. This movement exposes fresher, bluer material at the equator and poles and deposits the reddened material in between.

Researchers are eager to study the rock samples that the probe picked from Ryugu before its departure. Hayabusa2 is expected to drop off its samples in December 2020. At that point, the team will surely learn a lot about this specific asteroid as well as others in our stellar neighbourhood.


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