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Video shows Hayabusa-2's asteroid touchdown

By Brooks Hays

March 6 (UPI) -- Japan's space agency, JAXA, released a video this week featuring Hayabusa-2's successful asteroid touchdown.

Last month, the probe skimmed the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. A review of the landing data by JAXA scientists confirmed the touchdown sequence happened as expected.

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"Data analysis from Hayabusa-2 confirms that the sequence of operation proceeded, including shooting a projectile into the asteroid to collect its sample material," JAXA announced last week.

This week, JAXA scientists released video footage of the landing sequence capture by one of the probe's cameras.

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The shadow outline of the spacecraft can be see on the surface of Ryugu as it slowly descends toward the asteroid's surface. Dust can be seen exploding upward after a bullet fired by Hayabusa-2 collided with Ryugu's surface.

Shortly after the bullet hits the surface, the video shows the probe's robotic arm and scooper, the so-called sampler horn, enter the right side of the screen. The instrument was designed to collect rock and dust samples from the asteroid's surface.

JAXA has yet to confirm whether a sample was successfully collected, but the agency's most recent post-landing comments suggest a high degree of confidence.

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"A large quantity of scattered particles / debris can be seen: the potential for sample collection is high," scientists wrote in an update. "Fine particles may have adhered to the lens of the ONC-W1 camera."

The probe will conduct two more landing and sample collection attempts before returning to Earth in 2020.

Astronomers are mostly interested in Ryugu because they predict the asteroid is a relic of the early solar system.

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"Studying Ryugu could tell humanity not only about Ryugu's surface and interior, but about what materials were available in the early Solar System for the development of life," according to NASA.

Ryugu samples could help scientists better understand how carbon-rich asteroids like it migrate from distant asteroid belts.

"We believe carbon-rich asteroids may have significant amounts of water locked up in their rocks. It's possible such asteroids may have brought to Earth both the water and the organic material necessary for life to start," Alan Fitzsimmons, astronomer at Queen's University Belfast, told BBC News last month. "These samples will be crucial in investigating this possibility."

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