TOKYO -- A target marker released by Japan's Hayabusa2 space probe in late May to guide its landing onto the asteroid Ryugu fell just 3 meters away from the spot the probe was aiming for, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said on June 11.
The drop is regarded as highly accurate given that Ryugu is located some 300 million kilometers away from Earth.
Hayabusa2 started descending toward Ryugu on June 11. The probe will examine the surface near the target marker in detail and determine whether to go through with a second landing, which follows an earlier one made in February.
The probe released the target marker from about 10 meters above the asteroid's surface on May 30. The marker is covered in reflective material and lights up when exposed to a flash from Hayabusa, acting like a lighthouse to guide the probe to the correct spot.
This time the target marker fell practically where JAXA had hoped, but since the surface of Ryugu is rocky, the space agency will conduct a detailed examination to determine whether it is a point where the probe can land again without hitting any rocks.
Hayabusa2 released its first target marker in October last year, landing about 15.4 meters away from the spot the probe's team was aiming for. Using this target marker as a reference point, the probe made a landing on a separate, smaller space on the asteroid in February. The probe is believed to have collected materials from the asteroid's surface.
In April, an artificial crater was created on the asteroid by firing an impactor from the probe onto the asteroid's surface in a historic first. This time, JAXA aims to make a second landing and obtain material from inside the crater.
(Japanese original by Tomohiro Ikeda, Science & Environment News Department, and Etsuko Nagayama, Opinion Group)