Hayabusa 2 probe touches down on asteroid

Hayabusa 2 after touchdown
An image captured just after the Hayabusa 2’s touchdown on asteroid Ryugu shows the H-shaped shadow of the spacecraft and its solar panels. The dark splotch represents material disturbed by the sample collection operation. (JAXA Photo via Twitter)

Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft successfully touched down today on asteroid Ryugu, more than 200 million miles from Earth, during an operation aimed at blasting away and collecting a sample from the space rock.

The 18-foot-wide spacecraft was programmed to extend a yard-long tube to touch the surface, shoot a bullet made of tantalum into the asteroid and collect the bits of rock and dust thrown up by the impact.

In a series of tweets, the mission management team said telemetry confirmed that the bullet was fired and that the spacecraft was heading back to its stationkeeping position, 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) above the asteroid.

“Based on this, we determined touchdown was successful!” the Hayabusa 2 team tweeted. “A detailed analysis will now be done.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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