Tag Archives: asteroids

Bennu & Ryugu: Two very old and strange asteroids

Bennu as seen by OSIRIS-REx
Bennu’s equatorial ridge. Click for full image.

This week the science team operating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at the asteroid Bennu hosted a joint conference in Tucson, Arizona, with the scientists operating the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft at the asteroid Ryugu. Both gave up-to-date reports on the science so far obtained, as well as outlined upcoming events. I was fortunate enough to attend.

First an overview. Both Bennu and Ryugu are near earth asteroids, with Bennu having an orbit that might even have it hit the Earth in the last quarter of 2100s. Both are very dark, and are rubble piles. Both were thought to be of the carbonaceous chondrite family of asteroids, sometimes referred to as C-type asteroids. This family, making up about 75% of all asteroids, includes a bewildering collection of subtypes (B-types, F-types, G-types, CI, CM, CV, CH, CB, etc), all of which were initially thought to hold a lot of carbon. We now know that only a few of these categories, the CI and CM for example, are carbon rich.

Even so, we actually know very little about these types of asteroids. They are very fragile, so that any that reach the Earth’s surface are not a good selection of what exists. About 90% of the material gets destroyed in the atmosphere, with the remnant generally coming from the innermost core or more robust nodules. We therefore have a biased and limited sample.

It is therefore not surprising that the scientists are finding that neither Bennu nor Ryugu resembles anything else they have ever seen. Both have aspects that resemble certain types of carbonaceous chondrite asteroids, but neither provides a very good fit for anything.
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Smallest spherical planet so far found

Hygiea

A new image of the asteroid Hygiea has revealed that this main belt object is actually spherical, making it the smallest spherical asteroid so far discovered and suggesting that it could be defined as a planet.

The image, taken by the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, is to the right. The asteroid was first discovered in 1849 and is the fourth largest in the asteroid belt, after Ceres, Pallas, and Vesta, with a diameter of 267 miles.

The image once again challenges the definition of what makes a planet. It also makes difficult the vague term “dwarf planet.” At what point does a dwarf become a full planet? This has never been clarified, which is why I tend to avoid using the term dwarf planet.

In my many interviews of planetary scientists, they generally dismiss the IAU’s poor definition of a planet and define a planet as anything that has settled into a spherical shape. In the case of Hygiea, that seems to apply.

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Hayabusa-2 releases last mini-lander/rover to Ryugu

The Hayabusa-2 science team today released their last mini-lander, dubbed MINERVA-II2, toward Ryugu, with an expected landing expected no later than October 8.

After MINERVA-II2 lands, it will do the same as the first, operate for about two days on the surface, moving by a series of bounces/rolls and taking close-up pictures of the surface as it does so.

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Planet X a small black hole?

In one of the wilder theories attempting to explain the orbits of the outer objects found beyond Neptune, two physicists have proposed that the reason Planet X has not been located is because it might be a small black hole.

Previous studies have suggested Planet Nine, which some astronomers refer to as “Planet X,” has a mass between five and 15 times that of Earth and lies between 45 billion and 150 billion kilometers from the sun. At such a distance, an object would receive very little light from the sun, making it hard to see with telescopes.

To detect objects of that mass, whether planets or black holes, astronomers can look for weird blobs of light formed when light “bends” around the object’s gravitational field on its journey through the galaxy (simulated image above). Those anomalies would come and go as objects move in front of a distant star and continue in their orbit.

But if the object is a planet-mass black hole, the physicists say, it would likely be surrounded by a halo of dark matter that could stretch up to 1 billion kilometers on every side. And interactions between dark matter particles in that halo—especially collisions between dark matter and dark antimatter—could release a flash of gamma rays that would betray the object’s presence, the researchers propose in a forthcoming paper posted on the preprint server arXiv.

Anything is possible, but some things are certainly less likely than others. If these scientists turn out to be right, however, they will have achieved one of the biggest coups in the history of science.

And yes, the undiscovered planet out there should be referred to as “Planet X”, not “Planet Nine.” Not only is Pluto a planet, so are a lot of other objects in the solar system that up to recently were not considered so.

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Astronomer: Look for monolith on co-orbiting asteriods

According to one astronomer in a paper published this week, the most likely place to find alien artifacts would be on the co-orbital asteroids, objects whose orbit is very similar to the Earth and thus always nearby but mostly unseen.

In this context, a co-orbital is an asteroid that goes around the Sun on the same, or similar, orbital path to Earth. Co-orbital objects approach Earth very closely every year at distance is much shorter than anything except the moon.

Consequently, co-orbitals could be a great place to watch Earth from. Not only would any alien probes on co-orbital objects be concealed, but they would also be anchored and able to access solar energy. They could possibly sustain themselves for many thousands of years.

According to this paper, if aliens have visited the solar system in the past they would place their long-term alien probes on such an asteroid, or even give it a comparable co-orbit. And if we look and don’t find anything, that would strongly imply that we are alone in the universe.

Fun stuff, but need I say that not finding alien artifacts at these locations proves nothing.

Hat tip Jeff Bliss.

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Hayabusa-2 completes rehearsal for MINERVA-II drop

Hayabusa-2 has successfully completed its rehearsal for its planned drop of its last MINERVA-II bouncer/rover, releasing two reflective targets in order to track how they spiral down to the surface of Ryugu.

Hayabusa 2’s cameras will track the movement of the two navigation aids as they fly in space around Ryugu over the next several days. Scientists expect Ryugu’s tenuous gravity will pull the target markers to the asteroid’s surface within a week.

The release of that last bouncer is now expected in about a month. After spending time obtaining the data from that drop, Hayabusa-2 will then head back to Earth by the end of the year.

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The never-ending snowstorm circling Saturn

New data suggests that the water being spewed out of Enceladus’s tiger stripes is depositing so much snow and ice on Saturn’s three inner moons, Mimas, Enceladus and Tethys, that these moons, as well as Enceladus, are about twice as bright in radar than previously thought.

Dr Le Gall and a team of researchers from France and the US have analysed 60 radar observations of Saturn’s inner moons, drawing from the full database of observations taken by the Cassini mission between 2004 and 2017. They found that previous reporting on these observations had underestimated the radar brightness by a factor of two.

Unprotected by any atmospheres, Saturn’s inner moons are bombarded by grains of various origins which alter their surface composition and texture. Cassini radar observations can help assess these effects by giving insights into the purity of the satellites’ water ice.

The extreme radar brightness is most likely related to the geysers that pump water from Enceladus’s internal ocean into the region in which the three moons orbit. Ultra-clean water ice particles fall back onto Enceladus itself and precipitate as snow on the other moons’ surfaces.

Dr Le Gall, of LATMOS-UVSQ, Paris, explained: “The super-bright radar signals that we observe require a snow cover that is at least a few tens of centimetres thick. However, the composition alone cannot explain the extremely bright levels recorded. Radar waves can penetrate transparent ice down to few meters and therefore have more opportunities to bounce off buried structures. The sub-surfaces of Saturn’s inner moons must contain highly efficient retro-reflectors that preferentially backscatter radar waves towards their source.”

While the new results suggest that the surfaces of these moons are much brighter that expected, I find the circumstances they describe far more fascinating: a never-ending snow storm in the orbits around Saturn and landing continually on these moons.

My, isn’t the universe wonderful?

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Stony-iron asteroid caused flash on Jupiter in August

According to an analysis of the data obtained from the light flash that occurred when an object hit Jupiter on August 7, scientists have estimated its probably make-up, mass, and size.

They estimate from the energy released by the flash that the impactor could have been an object around 12-16 metres in diameter and with a mass of about 450 tons that disintegrated in the upper atmosphere at an altitude of about 80 kilometres above Jupiter’s clouds. Sankar and Palotai’s models of the light-curve for the flash suggest the impactor had a density typical of stony-iron meteors, indicating that it was a small asteroid rather than a comet.

Their conclusions are strengthened because they were able to compare this flash with five other similar but not as bright flashes, all detected since 2010.

These recent detections, all by amateurs, are because of the higher quality equipment now available to ordinary people, including the use of computers and remote operation. This technology is making it possible for amateurs to discover things that once only professionals could find.

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First high quality image of interstellar comet

Comet Borisov
Click for full image.

The Gemini Observatory on Mauna Kea has successfully taken the first high resolution image of comet C_2019 Q4, unofficially Comet Borisov (after its discoverer), the first interstellar comet ever discovered.

The image to right, cropped to post here, is that image. It clearly shows the growth of a coma and possible tail, indicating that as it is approaching the Sun it is releasing material from its surface.

Right now the comet is visually very close to the Sun, when looked at from the Earth, making observations difficult. As in the next few months it drops towards its closest approach of the Sun, and the Earth circles around in its own orbit, the viewing angle will improve.

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Interstellar comet discovered?

An amateur astronomer has discovered what appears right now to be an interstellar comet making its approach into the solar system.

[I]mages show that the incoming object sports a faint but distinct coma and the barest hint of a tail — something ‘Oumuamua lacked — and thus appears to be a comet. Astronomers are no doubt eager to get spectra of the new find to determine what compounds might be escaping from its surface.

Based on current observations, C/2019 Q4’s eccentricity is about 3.2 — definitely hyperbolic. Objects on hyperbolic orbits are unbound to the Sun. They’re most likely to hail from beyond the solar system, flying in from great distances to pay our neighborhood a brief visit before heading off for parts unknown.

If this result holds up, astronomers have an unprecedented opportunity to study a potentially interstellar object in great detail over a long span of time. Based on the comet’s current magnitude (~18) and distance from the Sun (2.7 a.u.), it appears to be a fairly large object — perhaps 10 km or more across, depending on the reflectivity of its surface.

There remains a great deal of uncertainty about comet’s path, which will be better resolved with time and better data.

If it is a comet from beyond the solar system, it will be a spectacular goldmine for scientists, because its coma and tail will allow them to gather a great deal of information about its make-up, far more than they were able to gather about Oumuamua.

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Hayabusa-2 in safe mode for one day on August 29

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 space probe automatically entered safe mode for one day on August 29, causing engineers to postpone a planned operation set for Sept 5.

Hayabusa2 is equipped with four reaction wheels that are used to control the posture of the spacecraft, and posture control is usually performed using three of these reaction wheels. On August 29, the back-up reaction wheel that has not been used since October last year was tested, and an abnormal value (an increased torque) as detected. The spacecraft therefore autonomously moved into the Safe-Hold state. Details of the cause of the abnormal torque value are currently under investigation. On August 30, restoration steps were taken and the spacecraft returned to normal. However, as the spacecraft moved away from the home position due to entering Safe-Hold, we are currently having to return to the home position. We will return to the home position this weekend.

The attitude of the spacecraft is controlled by three reaction wheels as before. Entering the Safe-Hold state is one of the functions employed to keep the spacecraft safe, which means that procedures have worked normally.

In this case it is very clear that this event actually demonstrated that the spacecraft’s systems are operating properly to prevent it from becoming lost. However, the event also underlined the urgency of getting its samples from the asteroid Ryugu back to Earth.

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OSIRIS-REx’s four candidate landing sites

The OSIRIS-REx engineering team has released a short video that flies over in close-up, showing the spacecraft’s four candidate sites on the asteroid Bennu, one of which will be where they will do a touch-and-go sample grab.

They continue to accumulate data on the four sites, all of which pose issues and risks because of nearby boulders and the looseness of Bennu’s rubble pile make-up.

Though all the sites are being considered, my sources in the industry suggest that the two dubbed Sandpiper and Nightingale are being favored. I like Osprey, because it is inside a crater and looks clear, but then, what do I know?

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Arecibo gets $19 million NASA research/education grant

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico was today awarded an $19 million NASA research/education grant for studying near Earth asteroids.

NASA awarded the University of Central Florida (which manages the site on behalf of National Science Foundation) the four-year grant to observe and characterize near-Earth objects (NEO) that pose a potential hazard to Earth or that could be candidates for future space missions.

…The award also includes money to support STEM education among high school students in Puerto Rico. The Science, Technology And Research (STAR) Academy brings together 30 local high-school students per semester once a week for 16 classes to learn about science and research at the observatory.

This, plus the recent NSF grant, will keep the telescope operating for at least the next few years.

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Results from tiny MASCOT lander on Ryugu

The scientists in charge of the tiny MASCOT lander dropped from Japan’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft today released the results from the lander’s short seventeen hour observations of the surface of Ryugu.

They found that the asteroid has two different types of rocks (why is a mystery) and practically no dust.

Ralf Jaumann and his team were particularly surprised by the lack of dust: “Ryugu’s entire surface is littered with boulders, but we have not discovered dust anywhere. It should be present, due to the bombardment of the asteroid by micrometeorites over billions of years, and their weathering effect. However, as the asteroid has very low gravity – only one-sixtieth of that experienced on Earth’s surface – the dust has either disappeared into cavities on the asteroid or has escaped into space. This gives an indication of the complex geophysical processes occurring on the surface of this small asteroid.”

They also confirmed that the asteroid is a very fragile rubble pile.

“If Ryugu or another similar asteroid were ever to come dangerously close to Earth and an attempt had to be made to divert it, this would need to be done with great care. In the event that it was impacted with great force, the entire asteroid, weighing approximately half-a-billion tonnes, would break up into numerous fragments. Then, many individual parts weighing several tonnes would impact Earth,” says Jaumann, who is supervising the MASCam experiment, interpreting the observations. The asteroid is very similar to carbonaceous meteorites found on Earth, which date back 4.5 billion years. With an average density of just 1.2 grams per cubic centimetre, Ryugu is only a little ‘heavier’ than water ice. But as the asteroid is made up of numerous pieces of rock of different sizes, this means that much of its volume must be traversed by cavities, which probably makes this diamond-shaped body extremely fragile.

MASCOT was another example of a cubesat demonstrating that these tiny spacecraft can do very sophisticated science.

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Japan’s plan for returning Hayabusa-2’s Ryugu samples to Earth

Japan’s today provided an update on what it has done to prepare the location where Hayabusa-2’s samples from the asteroid Ryugu will land on Earth.

The landing site is in the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) in the outback of southern Australia. Japan has already signed an agreement with that country for the recovery, as well as done preliminary surface work

The recovery site is an Australian Government prohibited area and is not accessible to the public. As part of the preparatory work, a field survey of the proposed recovery site in the WPA was conducted with permission from the Australian Government. This preparatory work confirmed the suitability of both the proposed recovery site and the candidate site for the antenna station that will search for the capsule.

The landing of the recovery capsule is now scheduled for late in 2020.

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OSIRIS-REx team picks four finalist sample return sites on Bennu

After months of photographing and analyzing the very rocky-shrewn surface of the rubble-pile asteroid Bennu, the OSIRIS-REx team has chosen four finalist sites, one of which they will do a touch-and-go sample grab.

This fall, OSIRIS-REx will begin detailed analyses of the four candidate sites during the mission’s reconnaissance phase. During the first stage of this phase, the spacecraft will execute high passes over each of the four sites from a distance of 0.8 miles (1.29 km) to confirm they are safe and contain sampleable material. Closeup imaging also will map the features and landmarks required for the spacecraft’s autonomous navigation to the asteroid’s surface. The team will use the data from these passes to select the final primary and backup sample collection sites in December.

The second and third stages of reconnaissance will begin in early 2020 when the spacecraft will perform passes over the final two sites at lower altitudes and take even higher resolution observations of the surface to identify features, such as groupings of rocks that will be used to navigate to the surface for sample collection. OSIRIS-REx sample collection is scheduled for the latter half of 2020, and the spacecraft will return the asteroid samples to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023.

They given the four sites the names Nightingale, Kingfisher, Osprey and Sandpiper.

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Movie of Hayabusa-2’s 2nd Ryugu touch-and-go

The Hayabusa-2 science team has released a short movie showing the spacecraft’s second touch-and-go sample grab on the surface of Ryugu.

The movie is available at the link above, or here.

From the burst of material that flies off the surface at touchdown, it is very clear why the science team was so worried about damaging Hayabusa-2 during this event.

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Possibility of meteorites from bright fireball in Ontario

Astronomers were successfully able to track and photograph a bright fireball over Canada early today, and think it is strongly possible that pieces of it might have hit the ground.

Preliminary results indicate that the fireball first became visible just south of Oshawa over Lake Ontario at an altitude of 93 km. It traveled over Clarington and passed just west of Peterborough before extinguishing just west of Bancroft. The fireball rivaled the full moon in brightness and had a number of bright flares near the end of its flight. The meteoroid was roughly the size of a small beachball (approx. 30cm in diameter) and likely dropped a small number of meteorite fragments in the tens to hundreds of grams size-range on the ground.

Brown and his collaborators at Western and the Royal Ontario Museum are interested in connecting with people from the area of the potential fall, who may have heard anything unusual, or who may have found possible meteorites.

…Meteorites can be recognized by their dark, often scalloped exterior. Usually they will be denser than a ‘normal’ rock and will often be attracted to a magnet due to their metal content. Meteorites are not dangerous, but if recovered, it is best to place them in a clean plastic bag or wrap them in aluminum foil. They should also be handled as little as possible to help preserve their scientific value. In Canada, meteorites belong to the owner of the land upon which they are found. If individuals plan to search, they should always obtain permission of the land-owner before venturing onto private land.

If you live up in that neck of the woods, take a look around. You might find something.

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Hayabusa-2: Carbon-rich asteroids too delicate to reach Earth surface

New data from Hayabusa-2 has confirmed the long-held suspicions of astronomers that the reason they find so few fragments of C-class asteroids, such as Ryugu, on Earth is because they are too delicate to reach the Earth’s surface.

Ryugu and other asteroids of the common ‘C-class’ [chondritic] consist of more porous material than was previously thought. Small fragments of their material are therefore too fragile to survive entry into the atmosphere in the event of a collision with Earth.

…Until now, only a few chondritic meteorites found on Earth have been identified as fragments of C-type asteroids, which are very common in the Solar System (‘C’ is the chemical symbol for the element carbon). …”We can now confirm that fragments of these asteroids are very likely to break up further when they enter Earth’s atmosphere, and then usually burn up completely. This means that only the largest fragments reach the Earth’s surface,” explains Grott. “That is why meteorites from this type of asteroid are so rarely found on Earth.”

The good news is that, because of this, Earth’s atmosphere offers increased protection from C-type asteroids, which account for 75 percent of all asteroids. …However, further research is necessary to determine the maximum asteroid size for which this atmospheric protection is effective.

It is likely that even the largest rubble-pile C-asteroids will not pose much risk. Even if some pieces reach the Earth’s surface they are probably going to be small and unable to do much harm.

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Hayabusa-2’s second touchdown sample grab

Hayabusa touchdown sequence

The Hayabusa-2 science team yesterday released a series of close-up images taken just as the spacecraft touched down and then backed off from the surface of Ryugu.

I have cropped and annotated that sequence and placed all three images side-by-side above. The red arrows in the first two images highlight similar shadows in both pictures, with the appearance of dust visible in the lower center of the middle touchdown picture. I have not marked any comparable surface features in the third image because the uplift of material makes it too difficult.

That uplift however is exactly what the Hayabusa-2 science team needs, as it is some of this material that has hopefully been captured. Their fear was that this uplift posed a risk to the spacecraft itself, but they took precautions to minimize the risk and it appears that these precautions have worked.

We now must wait until the samples come back to Earth in December 2020 to see exactly what they caught.

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Hayabusa-2’s second touchdown an apparent success

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 probe has successfully completed its second touch-and-go sample grab on the asteroid Ryugu.

Japan’s Hayabusa2 successfully completed its second touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu and probably captured material from its interior that was exposed by firing a projectile into the asteroid earlier this year. It is the first collection of subsurface materials from a solar system body other than the moon.

Engineers and technicians in the spacecraft’s control room near Tokyo could be seen erupting into cheers and applause on a YouTube live stream when Project Manager Yuichi Tsuda proclaimed the operation a success just before 11 a.m. local time. At an afternoon press briefing, Tsuda said, “Everything went perfectly.” He joked that if a score of 100 indicated perfection, “I would give this a score of 1000.”

They will now begin the journey home, with the samples arriving on Earth in December 2020.

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Hayabusa-2 begins second touch&go sample grab on Ryugu

The Hayabusa-2 science team has begun the approach to Ryugu for the spacecraft’s second tough-and-go sample grab.

The link outlines the plan and timing of the operation. You can view real-time images taken by the probe’s navigation camera here. The actual touchdown will take place on July 11 (Japan time).

You can also view a set of stereoscopic images of Ryugu produced by Brian May, lead guitarist of Queen who clearly wants to return to his roots as a trained astrophysicist.

As they note at the first link:

The 2nd touchdown is the last big operation at Ryugu for the Hayabusa2 project. We will proceed with caution and the upmost care. Please wish us success…!

If successful, their next big operation will be getting those samples back to Earth.

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Astronomers find kilometer-sized asteroid with shortest year

Astronomers have found a kilometer-sized asteroid with a year only 151 days long, the shortest year of any asteroid.

The asteroid has been dubbed 2019 LF6.

In its orbit, the asteroid swings out beyond Venus and, at times, comes closer in than Mercury, which circles the sun every 88 days. 2019 LF6 is one of only 20 known “Atira” asteroids, which are objects whose orbits fall entirely within Earth’s.

Atira asteroids are difficult to find because they are so close to the Sun, which makes observations difficult if not impossible. Expect more such discoveries as the technology to make these observations improves.

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Hayabusa’s 2nd sample grab on Ryugu

Target 2nd landing site on Ryugu
Click for full resolution image.

The Hayabusa-2 science team today posted detailed information in two posts about the process that led to the decision to attempt a second touch-and-go sample grab on the surface of Ryugu. The first part outlined in detail what they have learned about the target landing site. The second part described the decision making process.

The image to the right, reduced to post here, is from the second part. It shows the crater they created with a projectile and the target landing site, labeled C01-C. The dark areas show the changes on the surface following the impact. Their analysis of the target site found that, first, they can land there without undue risk to the spacecraft, and, second, they have a high probability of getting ejecta thrown up from the crater in their sample.

Based on all this information, they decided to attempt it, on July 11. I especially like how they stated this decision:

The second touchdown will be attempted on July 11. We will proceed with our mission with care, but boldly go. [emphasis mine]

I am sure my readers will recognize the literary reference.

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Hayabusa-2 to attempt 2nd sample grab

The new colonial movement: The Hayabusa-2 science team has decided to attempt a second touch-and-go sample grab from the man-made crater they created on the surface of the rubble-pile asteroid Ryugu.

JAXA engineers confirmed that the probe’s camera and other equipment that were slightly damaged by the first landing are usable, and that there are no big rocks at the candidate site. They gave the go-ahead for a landing on July 11.

Hayabusa2 is scheduled to begin its descent from an altitude of 20,000 meters at around 10 a.m. on July 10 Japan time, and touch down on the asteroid’s surface about 25 hours later.

This is the first time I have heard of any damage to the spacecraft from the first touch-and-go landing. Regardless, they have decided they can risk another sample grab and still have the ability to return the samples to Earth.

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Planning Hayabusa-2’s next sample grab on Ryugu

Target and man-made crater on Ryugu
Click for full image.

The Hayabusa-2 science team today released a mosaic image created using the images taken during the four close approaches to the site of the man made crater put there by a projectile fired from the spacecraft. The image on the right, reduced and cropped to post here, shows this area, with the white spot being the target they dropped onto the site during the most recent close approach. As they note in their release:

In order to collect this material, we need a second touchdown for which the project has been steadily preparing. At this point, it has not yet been decided whether or not to go ahead with a second touchdown, but here we will introduce our preparations in the “Approach to the second touchdown”.

After the operation to form the artificial crater, the spacecraft descended a total of four times above or near the crater site. These descent operations allowed us to obtain detailed data of the region near the artificial crater. In addition, we succeeded in dropping a target marker in the area close to the artificial crater on May 30. Combined, these operations mean that the situation around the artificial crater is now well understood.

Figure 1 [the image to the right] shows an image taken during the low altitude descent observation operation (PPTD-TM1B) conducted from June 11 – 13. The target marker was captured in the image and you can get a handle on the state of the surface. [emphasis mine]

Unfortunately they do not show us exactly where the man made crater is located in this mosaic. Nor was I able to locate it by comparing today’s image to a previous image that did indicate the location.

The only place that seems acceptable for their touch-and-go sample grab seems to be just above or to the left of the target. Whether this will get them any interior material thrown up during the impact however is unclear.

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Bennu from 2,200 feet

Bennu from about 2,200 feet
Click for full image.

The OSIRIS-REx science team today released one of the first images taken of Bennu after the spacecraft lowered itself into its closest orbit in early June. I have reduced and cropped slightly that image slightly to post here on the right. As they note,

From the spacecraft’s vantage point in orbit, half of Bennu is sunlit and half is in shadow. Bennu’s largest boulder can also be seen protruding from the southern hemisphere. The image was taken from a distance of 0.4 miles (690 m) above the asteroid’s surface by NavCam 1, one of three navigation cameras that comprise the spacecraft’s TAGCAMS (the Touch-and-Go Camera System) suite. At this distance, details as small as 1.6 ft (0.5 m) across can be resolved in the center of the image.

In other words, if a person was moving across the asteroid’s surface you could see them.

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Hayabusa-2 completes close approach of target/manmade crater

Target on Ryugu's surface

Hayabusa-2 has successfully completed its close approach and reconnaissance of the positioning target it had placed on May 30 near the crater it had created on Ryugu on April 4.

The image to the right is the last navigational image taken at the spacecraft’s closest point. You can clearly see the navigational target as the bright point near the upper center of the image, to the right of the three larger rocks. This location also appears to be inside the manmade crater, based on earlier reconnaissance of that crater. The crater is in an area they have labeled C01, which is where they have successfully placed the target. It also appears that this is the smoothest area in C01, which will greatly facilitate their planned sample grab.

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OSIRIS-REx’s new orbit of Bennu only half mile high

OSIRIS-REx has moved into its next phase of research by lowering its orbit around the asteroid Bennu to only 2,231 feet above the surface.

Upon arrival at Bennu, the team observed particles ejecting into space from the asteroid’s surface. To better understand why this is occurring, the first two weeks of Orbital B will be devoted to observing these events by taking frequent images of the asteroid’s horizon. For the remaining five weeks, the spacecraft will map the entire asteroid using most of its onboard science instruments: the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) will produce a full terrain map; PolyCam will form a high-resolution, global image mosaic; and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) and the REgolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) will produce global maps in the infrared and X-ray bands. All of these measurements are essential for selecting the best sample collection site on Bennu’s surface.

The goal is to narrow to four the possible touch-and-go landing sites for grabbing a surface sample. They will pick the final choice in a reconnaissance phase now scheduled for the fall.

The present research phase will last until the middle of August, when they will raise the orbit slightly to give them a different perspective of its surface and the particles being released from it.

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Hayabusa-2 making close approach of target/manmade crater

Ryugu during close approach

The Hayabusa-2 science team is right now conducting a close approach of the manmade impact crater they created to get a firm idea of exactly where the navigation target dropped to the surface during the last close approach landed.

The image on the right is the most recent navigation image, taken just a short time ago, and posted here in real time.

Once they have a precise location, they can then plan the touch-and-go sample grab within that man-made crater.

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