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Japan-S. Korea team to observe asteroid using Hokkaido telescope

This supplied computer graphic shows an image of the Hayabusa2 space probe and the Ryugu asteroid. (Photo courtesy of JAXA)(Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A team of Japanese and South Korean researchers will start observing Ryugu asteroid next fall using a special telescope in Hokkaido, northern Japan, in hopes of gaining an understanding of how asteroids are formed, a member said Monday.

Japan's Hayabusa2 probe recently completed its mission to collect samples from the asteroid, measuring about 900 meters in diameter and located some 250 million kilometers from Earth, and is scheduled to return around the end of 2020.

"We want to solve mysteries in which Hayabusa2 could not fully explore," said Masateru Ishiguro, a Seoul National University professor who will lead the group and analyze collected data together with South Korean students.

The team aims to find out whether there are sand particles on Ryugu using Hokkaido University's Pirka Telescope in the city of Nayoro, which is capable of detecting tiny particles measuring as small as a thousandth of a millimeter.

The rocky asteroid, which orbits around the Sun near the Earth and Mars, has been far away from the Earth for the past few years but will come close again by the end of next year. The asteroid will also appear to be its brightest since its discovery in 1999.

The observation is scheduled to be conducted between October 2020 and the first half of 2021.

Hiroshima University and the University of Hyogo in western Japan are considering taking part in the project through their respective observatories, while Ishiguro is also asking a Brazilian observatory to join in.

Hayabusa2 reached Ryugu in June last year after its launch in December 2014. It has touched down on Ryugu twice, successfully collecting the first-ever asteroid subsurface samples after creating an artificial crater by shooting a copper projectile at the asteroid.

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