The life of an asteroid is empty. The rocks spend eons drifting via the cold vacuum of space.
However, on Wednesday, the asteroid Ryugu welcomed a particular visitor: Japan’s Hayabusa-2 probe efficiently landed on the asteroid’s surface at 21:06 ET(01:06 UTC on Thursday).
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched Hayabusa-2 into space in December 2014. Its mission: discover and gather samples from Ryugu, a primitive asteroid half-a-mile in diameter that orbits the sun at a distance as much as 131 million miles (211 million kilometers).
The probe reached its vacation spot on June 2018, then set to work making observations, measuring the asteroid’s gravity, and rehearsing to touch down.
It blasted the asteroid with a copper plate and a box of explosives in April in an effort to loosen rocks and expose materials below the surface, then efficiently landed on Ryugu last night to collect up the rock and soil particles.
The spacecraft captured the photographs under as it left the asteroid’s surface.
“The first picture was taken at 10:06:32 JST (on-board time), and you may see the gravel flying upwards. The second shot was at 10:08:53 where the darker area close to the center is because of landing,” JAXA tweeted. Asteroids are made from rock and metal, and so they take every kind of quirky shapes, ranging in size from pebbles to 600-mile megaliths. Most of them hang out in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, though Ryugu’s orbit sometimes takes it between Mars and Earth.