Hayabusa2 touched down briefly on asteroid Ryugu on Friday and fired a bullet into the asteroid’s surface to puff up dust for sample collection. Then the spacecraft blasted back to its holding position in orbit around the asteroid, said officials from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). A February 22, 2019, statement from JAXA said:
[We] executed the asteroid explorer Hayabusa2 operation to touch down on the surface of the target asteroid Ryugu for sample retrieval.
Data analysis from Hayabusa2 confirms that the sequence of operation proceeded, including shooting a projectile into the asteroid to collect its sample material. The Hayabusa2 spacecraft is in nominal state [performing within acceptable limits]. This marks the Hayabusa2 successful touchdown on Ryugu.
A live webcast of the control room showed dozens of JAXA staff members nervously monitoring data ahead of the touchdown before exploding into applause after receiving a signal from Hayabusa2 that it had landed. Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 project manager, told reporters:
We made a successful touchdown, including firing a bullet [into the Ryugu asteroid]. We made the ideal touchdown in the best conditions.
The complicated procedure took less time than expected and appeared to go without a hitch, said Hayabusa2 mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa, who added:
I’m really relieved now. It felt very long until the moment the touchdown happened.
He said the firing of the bullet – the first of three planned in this mission – will:
… lead to a leap, or new discoveries, in planetary science.
The asteroid is thought to contain relatively large amounts of organic matter and water from some 4.6 billion years ago when the solar system was born.
Everyone, we did it!!! #haya2_TD
Thank you so much for your support from all over the world! pic.twitter.com/cHkeTCBgcs
— HAYABUSA2@JAXA (@haya2e_jaxa) February 22, 2019
Bottom line: Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft touched down successfully on asteroid Ryugu and fired a projectile into its surface to puff up dust for sample return.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.