If there was ever any doubt that Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft was able to get access to samples from an asteroid called Ryugu last month, a video released today should put those doubts to rest.
The black-and-white video clip, shot by the probe’s CAM-H monitoring camera, shows the sampling horn being lowered to the sunlit surface. Hayabusa 2 creeps nearer and nearer to its shadow, and suddenly there’s a spray of debris as the probe fires a bullet made of tantalum and backs away.
“Rocks reaching sizes of several tens of centimeters in diameter were ejected,” the Hayabusa 2 team said today in a science status report. “Many chips of this released debris are flattened plate-shaped and appear to reach quite a high altitude.”
Hayabusa 2’s sampling horn is designed to capture some of that debris. “The potential for sample collection is high,” the team reported.
Some of the fine-grained debris even ended up sticking to the lens of a different camera that’s used for optical navigation. An image captured by that camera was released soon after the Feb. 21 touchdown
The probe is scheduled to descend toward the asteroid again this week and next week. The piece de resistance will come in early April, when Hayabusa 2 is due to shoot a 4.4-pound lump of copper at the asteroid (known as the Small Carry-on Impactor) to create an artificial crater and free up more samples.
Ryugu is currently more than 200 million miles from Earth. Late this year, Hayabusa 2 will start the homeward journey, and it’ll drop off a sample container with bits of Ryugu by the end of 2020.