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Hayabusa 2 arrives at asteroid Ryugu after 3.5-year journey

The Ryugu asteroid is pictured on June 26, 2018, in this photo provided by organizations including the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the University of Tokyo.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced that its Hayabusa 2 space explorer arrived at the asteroid Ryugu on the morning of June 27, after a 3.5-year journey to its destination some 280 million kilometers away from Earth.

The spacecraft is now located at an altitude of about 20 kilometers from the surface of Ryugu. The probe will start an extensive observation of the asteroid's surface to determine a spot for landing, which is scheduled to take place sometime in October.

The explorer will collect rock samples from the asteroid and bring them home sometime around the end of 2020. Ryugu, estimated to have a diameter of about 900 meters, is thought to contain organic materials. Scientists hope the mission will help them understand how the solar system has developed and how life has come to exist in it.

The Hayabusa 2 probe was launched into space in December of 2014 as a successor to the Hayabusa probe, which brought back samples from the surface of the asteroid Itokawa for the first time in history in 2010.

(Illustration courtesy of Akihiro Ikeshita)

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

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