The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency reports that the asteroid Ryugu is full of rocks and boulders, will almost no flat surfaces to land.
MASCOT Lander Finally On Ryugu
The German-French rover, Mascot, successfully reached the surface of Ryugu on Oct. 3 and has already started its exploration of the asteroid. JAXA has also started receiving and releasing photos from the rover.
Scientists at mission control in Cologne, Germany used the cameras onboard the spacecraft Hayabusa2 to monitor the path that the rover has taken across the 900-meter diameter asteroid.
"What we saw from a distance already gave us an idea of what it might look like on the surface," explained MASCOT scientific director Ralf Jaumann. "In fact, it is even crazier on the surface than expected. Everything is covered in rough blocks and strewn with boulders. How compact these blocks are and what they are composed of, we still do not know. But what was most surprising was that large accumulations of fine material are nowhere to be found — and we did not expect that."
MASCOT was meant to be an "extension" of the spacecraft Hayabusa2 on the surface of Ryugu. It has so far conducted four experiments in different locations on the celestial object.
Hayabusa2 Delays Landing
Because of the discovery, JAXA will be delaying the touchdown of the Hayabusa2 on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. The spacecraft, which was launched in 2014, was initially scheduled to make touch-and-go landings to collect samples of the asteroid later this year. However, scientists found that the asteroid was rockier than expected.
JAXA will have to formulate a new plan to land the spacecraft on the surface of Ryugu before it returns back home. Yuichi Tsuda, the project manager behind Hayabusa2, said that his team would need at least a month.
The spacecraft will rehearse its touchdown later this month in which it will approach the asteroid. However, it will attempt landing by next year.
The Hayabusa2 arrived at Ryugu in June this year. In September, it dropped two "hopping" rovers, named Minerva II-1A and Minerva II-1B, to explore the surface of the asteroid before the spacecraft attempts to land.
The Hayabusa2 mission on Ryugu hopes to reveal new information about the creation of the Solar System. Asteroids are remnants from the formation of the Solar System some 4.6 billion years ago and might give scientists an insight on how planets, including Earth, evolved.