MASCOT Lands On Asteroid Ryugu, Snaps Amazing Photo Of The Ancient Space Rock

Last night, the Japanese Hayabusa-2 mission successfully deployed another probe on the surface of asteroid Ryugu — a 3,000-foot space rock floating through cosmos some 186 million miles (300 million kilometers) from Earth.

After initially releasing two 2.4-pound (1.1 kilograms) rovers on the surface of the asteroid on September 21, as previously reported by the Inquisitr, the Hayabusa-2 mothership descended a second time toward Ryugu to drop down the MASCOT lander — a 22-pound spacecraft about the size of a shoebox.

Short for Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, MASCOT separated from Hayabusa-2 at 9:58 p.m. EDT and landed on Ryugu after about 20 minutes of freefalling at low speed, slower than the normal walking pace, stated officials from the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The DLR built the tiny spacecraft in close cooperation with the French space agency CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales).

Following in the footsteps of the MINERVA-II1 rovers, MASCOT aced the touchdown on Ryugu and has already gathered a lot of exciting data on the diamond-shaped near-Earth asteroid.

“It could not have gone better,” said Tra-Mi Ho, MASCOT project manager at the DLR Institute of Space Systems.

While the two rovers were deployed from a distance of about 180 feet (around 55 meters) from the asteroid’s surface, the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft descended even closer to Ryugu to release the MASCOT lander, which was ejected at an altitude of just 167 feet (51 meters).

“And then I found myself in a place like no place on Earth. A land full of wonder, mystery and danger! I landed on asteroid Ryugu!” the MASCOT team tweeted in the early hours of October 3.

As the Inquisitr reported yesterday, MASCOT will be conducting a short mission on the surface of the asteroid — investigating Ryugu’s magnetic field, its surface temperature, and the composition of the minerals covering the space rock.

The lander is equipped with four scientific instruments: a wide-angle MASCAM camera and a MARA thermal radiometer, both built by the DLR — a MasMag magnetometer built by the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany, and a MircOmega infrared spectroscopic microscope constructed by CNES.

The mission is poised to expand our knowledge of asteroids — described by DLR planetary researcher Ralf Jaumann as “very primordial celestial bodies” — as well as offer further insight on the formation of our solar system.

“With MASCOT, we have the unique opportunity to study the solar system’s most primordial material directly on an asteroid,” Jaumann said in a statement.

MASCOT’s instruments switched on shortly after the lander separated from the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft, and began recording data right from the beginning of the glorious descent toward Ryugu. The magnetometer even performed measurements prior to the separation, noted the DLR, revealing precious information on the conditions near the asteroid.

“The measurements show the relatively weak field of the solar wind and the very strong magnetic disturbances caused by the spacecraft,” explained Karl-Heinz Glaßmeier of TU Braunschweig. “At the moment of the separation, we expected a clear decrease of the interference field — and we were able to recognize this clearly.”

Meanwhile, the lander’s MASCAM captured 20 photos during MASCOT’s descent toward Ryugu, all of which are now safely stored on board the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft.

“The camera worked perfectly,” said Jaumann, who is also the scientific director of the MASCAM instrument, adding: “The team’s first images of the camera are therefore safe.”

MASCOT even shared a spectacular image of Ryugu as it was tumbling toward the asteroid, showcasing the rocky, pitted terrain of the specifically-chosen landing site in the space rock’s southern hemisphere.

Space described this first photo of Ryugu snagged by MASCOT right before landing as “a shadow ‘selfie,'” noting that spacecraft’s shadow can be seen in the image’s upper right corner.

After MASCOT took measurements of the landing site with all of its instruments, the lander used its built-in swing arm to hop to another location and continue its investigation in a second area on the surface of Ryugu.

“This is the first time that scientists will receive data from different locations on an asteroid,” explained the DLR.

The MASCOT mission is estimated to last for approximately 16 hours, or until the lander’s lithium battery runs out. After that, the tiny spacecraft will remain on the surface of the asteroid, where it will be joined by the Hayabusa-2 mothership in late October and the MINERVA-II2 rover in 2019, as recently reported by the Inquisitr.

“I’ve taken measurements with all my experiments, and my battery is holding up! Still going strong!” the MASCOT team wrote on Twitter a few hours ago.

The goal of the Hayabusa-2 mission — led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency — is to study asteroid Ryugu in unprecedented detail and to collect samples from the carbon-rich space rock. The samples are expected to be returned to Earth in December 2020.

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