Space

Gaze in Wonder at The Incredible Footage of Hayabusa2 Touching Down on an Asteroid

When Japanese probe Hayabusa2 touched down on asteroid Ryugu on 11 July 2019, its camera was not sitting idle. The entire event was photographed using its small monitor cam (CAM-H).

Now JAXA has compiled those images into an animation, showing the probe closing in to collect mineral samples, then bouncing back off again to resume its position in orbit around the asteroid.

The mission has been incredibly exciting to watch. After a 2014 launch, Hayabusa2 finally rendezvoused with Ryugu just over a year ago, in late June. In September, it dropped a pair of small, hopping exploration rovers to the surface.

Then, in February, the probe made its first swoop down to the asteroid to collect material. This is going to be sent home to Earth, where scientists can analyse the samples in the hopes of learning more about the early Solar System, since Ryugu is thought to date back to its formation billions of years ago.

This second collection was for material deeper inside the asteroid. In April, Hayabusa fired an explosive at the space rock to dig up material from below the surface. This is what the probe was trying to retrieve in the second touchdown.

CAM-H started taking photos at an altitude of about 8.5 metres (28 feet), snapping one every 0.5 to 5 seconds as it lowered to the surface and bounced back off again, rising to a height of 150 metres (492 feet).

In all, the operation took less than 10 minutes. The sample it collected is now sealed away in a special container, awaiting a trip to Earth.

Hayabusa2 is due to depart Ryugu in December this year, dropping its precious sample cargo off as it flies past Earth in December of 2020 on its way to a new asteroid target.

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