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Asteroid Ryugu. Contact.

25 February 2019

JAXA has made the historical achievement of actively sampling Ryugu using their Hayabusa 2 probe. Ryūgū means “Dragon Palace” and is a fitting name from Japanese folklore. This asteroid is about a kilometer in size and, unusually, has qualities of two asteroid types, C (a common carbonaceous variety) and G (somewhat rare, less than 5%, carbonaceous). It was discovered recently in May of 1999 and Hayabusa 2 recently deployed a device which successfully fired a 5 gram tantalum bullet into the surface. The rare element, Ta, was used since it would almost totally fracture upon impact ensuring the maximum amount of ejecta for capture potential and ultimate return of some of the ejecta to Earth. As a geologist this  is significant since rock samples are routinely hammered, broken or otherwise abused to get to the fresh material for best analysis. There is no other way. I use a rock hammer (really a roofer’s tool), at times other and bigger rocks, but using tantalum does has panache. Interestingly, Ryugu also has an orbital path akin to Earth’s which makes for a potential threat for collision at some distant day.

This image is outstanding as it not only is a great closeup of Ryugu (showing a surprisingly gravel-like surface and not a dusty one as expected) but has the shadow of Hayabusa 2 on it. This image brings home the incredible fact that human-kind has touched a distant and rapidly moving object in our solar system.

Hayabusa 2’s shadow on the surface of asteroid Ryugu—image courtesy of Agence France Press Getty Images

And this image shows more the detail of the gravel-like surface of Ryugu.

The unexpectedly gravel-like surface of Ryugu—JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST

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