Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission

Japan’s Hayabusa2 Mission

Why in News?

  • A Japanese space probe carrying the first extensive samples of an asteroid has completed its six-year mission, landing safely in the remote Australian outback.
  • The mission by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Hayabusa2 seeks to answer some fundamental questions about the origins of the solar system and where molecules like water came from.
  • The spacecraft, launched from Japan’s Tanegashima space centre in 2014, took four years to reach the asteroid Ryugu before taking a sample and heading back to Earth in November 2019.
  • The mission is similar to NASA’s OSIRIS-REX mission that brought back samples from asteroid Bennu late in October.

What is the Hayabusa2 mission?

  • The Hayabasu2 mission was launched in December 2014 when the spacecraft was sent on a six-year-long voyage to study the asteroid Ryugu and collect samples that it is now bringing back to the Earth.
  • The spacecraft arrived at the asteroid in mid-2018 after which it deployed two rovers and a small lander onto the surface.
  • In 2019, the spacecraft fired an impactor into the asteroid’s surface to create an artificial crater with a diametre of a little more than 10 metres, which allowed it to collect the samples.
  • As per NASA, the asteroid is thought to be made up mostly of nickel and iron.
  • Hayabasu2’s predecessor, the Hayabusa mission brought back samples from the asteroid Itokawa in 2010.
  • After dropping off the capsule containing the sample, the spacecraft, however, will continue to move further to another asteroid called 1998 KY26 where it will reach by July 2031.

What is an asteroid?

  • Asteroids are rocky objects that orbit the Sun, much smaller than planets.
  • They are also called minor planets.
  • According to NASA, there are 994,383 known asteroids, the remnants from the formation of the solar system over 4.6 billion years ago.

Asteroids are divided into three classes.

  • First, those found in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, which is estimated to contain somewhere between 1.1-1.9 million asteroids.
  • The second group is that of trojans, which are asteroids that share an orbit with a larger planet. NASA reports the presence of Jupiter, Neptune and Mars trojans. In 2011, they reported an Earth trojan as well.
  • The third classification is Near-Earth Asteroids (NEA), which have orbits that pass close by the Earth. Those that cross the Earth’s orbit are called Earth-crossers.
  • Ryugu is also classified as a PHA and was discovered in 1999 and was given the name by the Minor Planet Center in 2015.

 Why do scientists study asteroids?

  • Scientists study asteroids to look for information about the formation and history of planets and the sun since asteroids were formed at the same time as other objects in the solar system.
  • Another reason for tracking them is to look for asteroids that might be potentially hazardous.
  • It is for these reasons that scientists are interested in gathering information about asteroids.


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