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Japan space probe Hayabusa 2 to try landing on Ryugu asteroid in Feb.

TOKYO -- The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will try to land its space probe Hayabusa 2 on the asteroid Ryugu sometime between Feb. 18 and 24, the agency has announced.

The announcement came after the postponement of a scheduled landing in October last year due to the unexpectedly rocky surface conditions of the asteroid, but JAXA researchers have since identified two candidate landing sites with fewer rocks.

The agency also revealed that the names its scientists have given to some landmarks on Ryugu -- taken from traditional Japanese children's tales -- have been approved by the International Astronomical Union.

In the landing mission in February, Hayabusa 2 will use target markers it released earlier on the celestial object, and attempt to collect rocks and sand from the surface. The two candidate locations, which are near the markers, are free of large rocks. Landing on objects with heights of roughly 60 centimeters or above could damage the spacecraft.

Meanwhile, JAXA has given names to 13 landmarks, such as craters and large rocks. The largest crater, which has a diameter of 290 meters, is now named Urashima, named after the protagonist of a children's tale about a young kind fisherman and an undersea paradise he was taken to before suddenly growing old. The biggest rock mass on the asteroid has been named Otohime, after a princess the fisherman meets in Ryugu, the name of that paradise.

Professor Takashi Kubota of JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, said repeated rehearsals have made it possible to carry out landing maneuvers with higher precision.

"We want to try it carefully but boldly," Kubota said.

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

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