Dramatic moment Japanese Hayabusa-2 lands on Asteroid Ryugu

After spending six years in space, including three years travelling next to the asteroid Ryugu, Japan’s Hayabusa-2 is set to return to Earth on Sunday, December 6. Hayabusa-2 left Ryugu roughly a year ago and has almost completed its 300 million kilometre (180 million miles) journey across space. By returning the samples to Earth, it will be the first time scientists have managed to collect a piece of an asteroid from space and return it to our planet.

The spacecraft is set to land somewhere in Australia, with detectors and monitors set up throughout the country so researchers from the Japanese space agency JAXA can easily find where the 40-centimetre ship will land.

Hayabusa-2 and its lander became the first of such to ever make contact with an asteroid in September 2018.

Asteroids like Ryugu are a form of time capsules from the solar system’s formation.

Because of this scientists hope the asteroid samples will offer mouthwatering insights into the history of our solar system.

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Some of the rocks on Ryugu are made up of carbonaceous chondrite, which is believed to be some of the oldest material in the solar system, dating back 4.5 billion years, and something which is rarely found on Earth.

The discovery will give scientists a better understanding of how our galactic neighbourhood and ultimately our planet came to be.

In particular, scientists hope to study organic molecules of Ryugu. By doing so, the team may understand better what the origin of life on Earth is.

Mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa said: “We may be able to get substances that will give us clues to the birth of a planet and the origin of life… I’m very interested to see the substance.”

Project manager Yuichi Tsuda said: “The probe is now in a very good condition.”

He added that the return is a “rare event in human history”.

Once the sample has been dropped off, Hayabusa-2 will then complete a series of orbits around the Sun over the course of six years.

Following that, it will then head off to two more asteroids to study them.

The first asteroid is named 2001 CC21, which Hayabusa-2 will fly near to, snapping a series of photographs as it does.

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It will then continue on to asteroid 1998 KY26, a ball-shaped asteroid with a diameter of just 30 metres.

The craft will arrive there in 2031 when it will be more than 300 million kilometres from Earth.

Once again, the craft will merely observe and photograph the asteroid and not collect samples.

Seiichiro Watanabe, a Hayabusa-2 probe project scientist and professor of planetary science at Nagoya University, said: “It’s like an athlete who scored two tries at a Rugby World Cup game attempting to compete in the Olympics, 10 years after switching over to figure skating.

“We had never expected that the Hayabusa-2 would carry out another mission… but it’s a scientifically meaningful and fascinating plan.”

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