Japan space explorer arrives at asteroid - 170 million miles from Earth

Hyabusa 2 orbit

Hayabusa 2 will spend about a year and a half surveying the 900m-wide space rock, which is about 290 million km (180 million miles) from Earth. The Japanese space explorer that will try to blow a crater in an asteroid and bring back samples from inside is nearing its destination after a 3 1/2 -year journey.

At the end of 2019 Hayabusa-2 needs to go back to Earth.

In fact, Japanese scientists are convinced that the 900-meter-wide (3,000 feet) asteroid, made up of leftover material from when our planets were first created, is chock-full of chemical compounds that may have ignited the spark of life on Earth.

"First of all, the rotation axis of the asteroid is perpendicular to the orbit", he said.

In order to collect samples from underneath the asteroid's surface, the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft will be blasting Ryugu with a two-kilogram (four-pound) copper projectile sometime before the final landing. In General, this operation is scheduled three times.

During this time, it will aim to deploy several landing craft to the surface, including small rovers and a German-built instrument package called Mascot (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout).

Hayabusa Two's approach has also allowed Jaxa to determine the asteroid's orbit is retrograde, meaning it spins in the opposite direction to the Sun and the Earth.

From this crater, the probe will collect "fresh" materials unexposed to millennia of wind and radiation, hoping for answers to some fundamental questions about life and the universe, including whether elements from space helped give rise to life on Earth.

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The successful mission came just days before the UN's International Asteroid Day on June 30, a global event to raise awareness about the hazards of an asteroid impact and technological progress to counter such a threat.

Launched in December 2014, the unmanned Hayabusa 2 spacecraft has now settled into an observational point almost 20 kilometers (12 miles) above the asteroid's surface, from where it will begin its scientific mission in about two months' time.

That probe returned from a smaller, potato-shaped, asteroid in 2010 with dust samples despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year odyssey and was hailed as a scientific triumph.

"From a distance, Ryugu initially appeared round, then gradually turned into a square before becoming a attractive shape similar to fluorite - known as the "firefly stone" in Japanese", the space agency said in a statement.

"We have confirmed the arrival of Hayabusa2 at the Ryugu asteroid", JAXA said in a statement. The image was taken in the distance of about 40 kilometers (25 miles) between the explorer and the asteroid.

"In other words, arriving at Ryugu is the same as aiming at a 6-centimeter target in Brazil from Japan", the agency said.

This image taken on June 24, 2018 and provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows asteroid of Ryugu that asteroid explorer Hayabusa2 was expected to reach as its target.

In this August 31, 2014, photo, asteroid explorer Hayabusa2 is displayed to media by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) at its facility in Sagamihara, near Tokyo.

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