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Hayabusa 2 probe closes in on an asteroid

Hayabusa 2 views of Ryugu
A series of pictures from Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe shows views of the asteroid Ryugu during the spacecraft’s approach. The closest views were captured from a distance of about 100 kilometers (62 miles), and reveal craters and boulders on the asteroid’s turning surface. (JAXA Photos)

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a dumpling … It’s a “Star Trek” Borg cube … It’s the asteroid Ryugu!

Our view of Ryugu, a half-mile-wide space rock nearly 180 million miles from Earth, is coming into sharper focus with the approach of the Japanese probe Hayabusa 2.

Three and a half years after its launch, the spacecraft is now within 35 miles of the asteroid, closing in on what’s expected to be a standoff orbital distance of 12 miles. The pictures that it’s been sending back throughout the approach provide enough detail to reveal Ryugu’s blocky shape.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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