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In search of the origin of life, Japan's Hayabusa lands 2 spacecraft on an asteroid

Japan's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft has successfully landed on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu, a historic moment in space exploration that can provide fascinating details about the origins of life on Earth. At 7:49 am local time in Japan, the spacecraft straight down on Ryugu, which has risen from a stable orbit about 20 kilometers above the surface. Taking about 310 million kilometers from the earth – well past the point where smooth communication at light speed is too slow for real-time control – the entire descent was automated and took about 23 hours. When the carefully contacted surface, the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft would have had a final speed of only seven centimeters per second. If everything proceeded according to plan, a meter long sampling arm fired a successful projectile into the surface, yielding up to 0.1 grams of material that would be collected in a sample capsule that would be transported back to earth by the end of 2020. spaceships took pictures before , during and after the test of sampling, which is the only way to know if the mechanism has succeeded. After leaving the area, Hayabusa took about half a day to return to his home position above the asteroid. "This is really exciting, because this is the first time in history that we [may have] got a selection of a carbonated asteroid," says Patrick Michel from the Cote d & # 39; Azur in France, a co-researcher on the mission. 19659004] Asteroid Ryugu is photographed by…

Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft has successfully landed on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu, a historic moment in space exploration that can provide fascinating details about the origins of life on Earth.

At 7:49 am local time in Japan, the spacecraft straight down on Ryugu, which has risen from a stable orbit about 20 kilometers above the surface. Taking about 310 million kilometers from the earth – well past the point where smooth communication at light speed is too slow for real-time control – the entire descent was automated and took about 23 hours. When the carefully contacted surface, the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft would have had a final speed of only seven centimeters per second. If everything proceeded according to plan, a meter long sampling arm fired a successful projectile into the surface, yielding up to 0.1

grams of material that would be collected in a sample capsule that would be transported back to earth by the end of 2020.

spaceships took pictures before , during and after the test of sampling, which is the only way to know if the mechanism has succeeded. After leaving the area, Hayabusa took about half a day to return to his home position above the asteroid. “This is really exciting, because this is the first time in history that we [may have] got a selection of a carbonated asteroid,” says Patrick Michel from the Cote d & # 39; Azur in France, a co-researcher on the mission. 19659004] Asteroid Ryugu is photographed by ONC-T, which is equipped with the Hayabusa2 probe, in outer space 280 million kilometers from Earth, June 24, 2018. Given its circular route, the probe has traveled around 3.2 billion kilometers since its launch 2014. Photo by JAXA-Tokyo University / Handout via REUTERS “width =” 1024 “height =” 700 “class =” size-large wp-image-255943 “srcset =” https://d3i6fh83elv35t.cloudfront.net/static/ 2018/06 / Hayabusu_RTS1TYJH_horizontal.jpg 1024w, https://d3i6fh83elv35t.cloudfront.net/static/2018/06/Hayabusu_RTS1TYJH_horizontal-300×205.jpg 300w, https://d3i6fh83elv35t.cloudfront.net/static/2018/06/Hayabusu_RTS1TYJH_horizontal- 768×525.jpg 768w, https://d3i6fh83elv35t.cloudfront.net/static/2018/06/Hayabusu_RTS1TYJH_horizontal-425×291.jpg 425w “sizes =” (max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px “/>

Asteroid Ryugu is photographed by ONC-T, equipped with Hayabusa2 probe, in outer space 280 million kilometers from Earth, June 24, 2018. Given its k court map has traveled the probe around 3.2 billion kilometers since its launch in 2014. Photo by JAXA-Tokyo University / Handout via Reuters

Hayabusa 2 was launched in December 2014 by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which arrives in June 2018 at Ryugu , a primitive C-type asteroid (carbonaceous). Ryugu is just under a mile away but is believed to contain a huge scientific treasure: untouched material left from the primordial solar system for 4.6 billion years ago, an era that precedes the interplay of the solar plan. To study this science-rich rock, Hayabusa 2 has already created global maps from its orbital perch and also sent three small robbers down to the surface since 2018. A fourth rover will be launched later this year. But the mission’s main goal has always been to directly collect samples from the surface using similar equipment that was first used on the predecessor, Hayabusa 1. The only previous asteroid sample return mission, Hayabusa 1, returned dust grains from S-type (or stony) asteroid Itokawa in June 2010, a less pristine object believed to have formed much later than Ryugu in the solar system’s history.

Hayabusa 1’s test collection mechanism did not work as planned, but the projectile failed to fire in the surface – even though the spacecraft’s trawlers kicked up dust in its collector. Hayabusa 2’s researchers and engineers are hoping that they have raised some problems this time – if it has worked successfully, the payout can be huge. “This time, we believe we can get organic material,” said JAXA’s Makoto Yoshikawa, Head of Mission for Hayabusa 2, referring to rich, rich compounds that, along with water and sunlight, are the fundamental foundation of life on earth. “In the Hayabusa 1 case at Itokawa, we did not find organic material. But this time at Asteroid Ryugu, we think we can get organic material and water in the sample. So this is our primary goal.”

After the spacecraft arrived The asteroid began the team studying images to find a suitable landing site to collect a sample. It quickly became apparent that the material on the surface was not as good as expected, instead consisting of rubble stones and stones that could easily suck out an incorrect sample collection attempt. To increase the chance of success, spacecraft released target markers on Ryugu in October 2018-thin sheets of reflective material to act as mirrors for gauges that can accurately measure the distance to the surface.

The original plan required three separate landings and sample collections, return material from different locations. Concern over the rough terrain, however, means that only one landing is likely to be attempted, one that will be even more ambitious. Earlier in April, the spacecraft will shoot a weight weighing one kilogram against the surface at a speed of two kilometers per second, excavating a small crater about two to three meters above. The team then decides whether to put down and try to collect a sample from this crater, scoop up material from inside the asteroid itself – something that has never been done before.

NASA researchers participating in OSIRIS-REx, another asteroid sample recording effort that happens at the same time, will be watching Hayabusa 2’s work at Ryugu with respiratory impairment. OSIRIS-Rex mission requires the capture of up to two kilograms of material from the asteroid Bennu, also a C-type asteroid, by the end of 2020. Strong cooperation between Japan and the United States has seen the two teams share information and the OSIRIS-REx team will Learn invaluable data from Hayabusa 2’s attempt to land. “We are very interested in what is happening during their sampling attempt,” says Dante Lauretta, lead researcher at OSIRIS-REx and a co-researcher at Hayabusa 2. “We will set up a meeting [with JAXA] to review the lessons.”

Peering back in time via remote sensing data and direct samples collected by these spacecraft researchers hope that just how asteroids and perhaps comets, first sowed the soil with water and other important ingredients for life. If and when the impure samples of these primordial asteroids are returned, global research groups will scrub them for organic materials such as amino acids, which may give new clues to our beginnings. Analyzing the isotope composition of the samples will also reveal exactly how old each asteroid is and strengthen the chronology of our solar system. “We want to verify if these bodies have organic material,” says Michel and also analyzes this material to understand the role of asteroids in the rise of life on earth. One scenario could be that all the elements needed for the emergence of life, including water and perhaps other prebiotic materials, were taken by these small bodies. “

Hayabusa 2 will resign Ryugu at the end of 2019 and by the end of 2020 it will come to Earth and release its capsule filled with precious cargo from the sun’s dawn. Together with OSIRIS-REx, this intrepid interplanetary mission can only tell more about the origin of our own world than ever before.

This article is licensed by Scientific American. You may view the original version here.

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