On Dec. 5, the probe delivered a capsule containing pristine samples of the carbon-rich asteroid Ryugu to Earth. Now, only a month later, the probe is formally on the transfer towards one other asteroid, within the early levels of an bold and protracted prolonged mission.
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Hayabusa2’s first extended-mission vacation spot is the roughly 2,300-foot-wide (700 meters) asteroid (98943) 2001 CC21, which the probe will fly by at excessive velocity in 2026, if all goes in line with plan. A extra in-depth rendezvous with one more house rock, 1998 KY26, is scheduled to observe in 2031. (Hayabusa2 will not acquire any samples from 2001 CC21 or 1998 KY26.)
1998 KY26 is regarded as simply 100 toes (30 m) or so extensive — a lot smaller than each 2001 CC21 and Ryugu, which has a diameter of about 3,000 toes (900 m). The mechanical properties and different traits of such small asteroids aren’t effectively understood, neither is the function that their collisions with Earth have performed in our planet’s historical past. So learning 1998 KY26 up shut will yield useful insights, Hayabusa2 group members stated.
“It’s anticipated that the world’s first proximity remark of celestial our bodies lower than 100m in diameter will present helpful info, not just for elucidating the historical past of the Earth but in addition for planetary protection,” group members wrote in a Hayabusa2 briefing doc this previous September.
Hayabusa2 will carry out different duties throughout this prolonged mission as effectively, together with observing exoplanets and the zodiacal mild — the faint glow in our photo voltaic system attributable to daylight bouncing off interplanetary mud. (You’ll be able to learn way more concerning the prolonged mission and its objectives within the briefing doc.)
The subsequent decade-plus will not be simply concerning the prolonged mission, in fact. Hayabusa2 scientists have solely simply begun to evaluate and characterize the 0.19 ounces (5.four grams) of pristine Ryugu materials that landed within the Australian Outback final month.
A full investigation of this cosmic filth and gravel may reveal key insights concerning the early photo voltaic system and, maybe, the function that carbon-rich asteroids like Ryugu performed within the rise of life on Earth, Hayabusa2 group members have stated. Such work will contain scientists all over the world — the mission group will mortgage some samples out — and virtually definitely take many years. In spite of everything, researchers are nonetheless learning the 842 lbs. (382 kilograms) of moon materials that NASA’s Apollo program introduced residence between 1969 and 1972.
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Hayabusa2 — the successor to the authentic Hayabusa mission, which delivered just a few grains of fabric from the stony asteroid Itokawa to Earth in 2010 — launched in December 2014. It arrived at Ryugu in June 2018 and studied the house rock in depth for almost a 12 months and a half, dropping a number of hopping rovers and a microwave-sized lander onto the asteroid over that stretch.
The primary Hayabusa2 spacecraft additionally made two visits of its personal to Ryugu’s rubbly floor, amassing samples every time. A kind of sampling runs snagged subsurface materials freshly unearthed by a copper “cannonball” that the probe fired into the asteroid in April 2019.
Hayabusa2 left Ryugu in November 2019, efficiently delivering the return capsule just a little over a 12 months later. Lower than two weeks after that touchdown, on Dec. 16, China’s Chang’e 5 mission aced its personal cosmic supply, returning recent moon samples to Earth for the primary time for the reason that Soviet Union did so in 1976.
And there is much more sample-return motion coming within the comparatively close to future. In October 2019, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission collected a giant pattern from the carbon-rich asteroid Bennu. This materials will contact down in Utah in September 2023, if all goes in line with plan.
Mike Wall is the writer of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a e-book concerning the seek for alien life. Comply with him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Comply with us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Fb.