Hayabusa2 arrives at Ryugu asteroid

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Hayabusa2 arrives at Ryugu asteroid

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft is now in orbit around the asteroid after arriving at its destination on Wednesday, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

"From a distance, Ryugu initially appeared round, then gradually turned into a square before becoming a attractive shape similar to fluorite - known as the "firefly stone" in Japanese", the space agency said in a statement. Exploration will be conducted on three occasions from this autumn to spring next year, in which rock fragments and other samples will be collected from the surface and also underground on the asteroid. However, he added there is also a "peak in the vicinity of the equator and a number of large craters, which makes the selection of the landing points both interesting and hard".

Hayabusa 2 will spend about a year and a half surveying the 900m-wide space rock, which is about 290 million km (180 million miles) from Earth.

In the meantime, it is orbiting the 900 metre-diameter (3,000ft) planetary body at a height of about 12 miles (20km).

The spacecraft will then attempt to land to collect debris blown out of the crater while deploying three rovers that can hop around on the surface of the asteroid and study it.

This is because this ancient space rock is believed to date back to the formation of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago, notes the BBC.

The Hayabusa2 probe was in good shape and now ready to start exploring the asteroid over the coming 18 months, JAXA said. By June 14, Hayabusa-2 was 700 km away, and JAXA researchers were ultimately able to observe the asteroid's rotation, which is regressive, rotating in the contradictory direction in association to the sphere of planets around the Sun.

Aside from the three landings, the Hayabusa 2 mission also includes exploring the asteroid with three MINERVA-II rovers - tiny robots with no wheels, created to hop around Ryugu's surface and conduct probes - as well as deploying a French-German lander named Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) to scout the asteroid's exterior.

It's also thought they may contain chemical compounds that could have been important for kick-starting life on Earth.

The Hayabusa2 mission costs 30 billion yen ($274 million) and the probe was launched in December 2014.

"This form of Ryugu is scientifically surprising, and also poses a few engineering challenges", it said of difficulties, including landing, on the unusually shaped asteroid.

Samples obtained from Bennu are expected to return to Earth on the Osiris-Rex in 2023. This means the spacecraft is probing the vicinity of the asteroid from a distance of just 12 miles.

"I was honoured to have the opportunity to make this very first stereo compilation - not only of Ryugu, but of any C-type asteroid - in history", a message on the site read. Photograph was taken on June 24, 2018 at around 15:00 JST and shows a section of the camera's wide field of view.

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