On 27 June, the Japanese spacecraft named Hayabusa 2 (‘peregrine falcon‘ in Japanese), arrived above the diamond-shaped asteroid Ryugu, which is 300 million kilometers away from Earth. It has traveled for three-and-a-half years to seek origins of life on the asteroid.
The mission started in December 2014, with the goal of taking samples for scientists to find out how life began. The mission will take six years to complete, and according to a spokesman for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):
“Everything has gone as planned. The probe has arrived at the asteroid.”
For the next months, the spacecraft will orbit the asteroid at a distance of 20 km to map its surface before choosing a landing place. After that, it will blast a crater on its surface with a small explosive to collect samples from the debris.
Learning About Life on Earth From Ryugu’s Soils
Scientists believe that Ryugu contains organic matter which could have brought part of the life on Earth.
After Hayabusa 2 reached its destination, the team burst into applause, one official saying that:
“We’re mostly relieved, but now there’s tension as to whether the main mission will go well.”
If everything goes well and according to plan, Hayabusa 2 will stay close to the asteroid Ryugu for 18 months, and at the end of 2020 it will return to Earth with the samples collected.
There was a Hayabusa 1 probe, which brought samples back to Earth from a different asteroid, but they weren’t enough. The probe ended its mission after seven years, in 2010, as it slammed into Australian desert, leaving a blazing trail on the sky.
If Hayabusa 2 gets safely back to Earth with enough soil samples, it could help Japan’s space programme move past the accident in 2016 with the first military communication satellite which was crushed while on a flight from Japan to Europe.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.