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New photos show 'spinning top' shape of asteroid Ryugu

Images of Ryugu taken with the Hayabusa 2 probe. These photographs were taken on June 17, 2018, at around 3:00 p.m. and June 18 at around 6:00 a.m. JST. (Photo courtesy of JAXA)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has released yet another set of photographs of asteroid Ryugu taken by its Hayabusa 2 explorer from about 240 to 330 kilometers away from the object.

The images, taken from June 17 through June 18, show the asteroid in more detail than the ones taken about four to five days ago. It appears like a "spinning top," JAXA said, with crater-like dimples on the surface.

According to Hayabusa 2 project scientist Seiichiro Watanabe, this form is seen in many small asteroids that are rotating at high speed, and resembles the shape of the asteroid Bennu, which is the target of a NASA exploration project using the OSIRIS-REx probe.

Ryugu is now estimated to be about 900 meters in diameter and rotates about every 7 1/2 hours.

The Hayabusa 2 explorer is expected to reach a point about 20 kilometers from Ryugu on June 27. It is scheduled to make three landings on the asteroid to collect samples starting in November, and return to Earth around the end of 2020.

(Japanese original by Tomohiro Ikeda, Science & Environment News Department)

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