A team of Japanese and South Korean researchers will start observing the Ryugu asteroid using a special telescope in Hokkaido from next fall, in hopes of gaining an understanding of how asteroids are formed, a team member said Monday.
Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe recently completed a mission to collect samples from the asteroid, which is about 900 meters in diameter and located some 250 million kilometers from Earth. The probe is scheduled to return around the end of 2020.
“We want to solve mysteries Hayabusa2 could not fully explore,” said Masateru Ishiguro, a professor at Seoul National University who will lead the group and analyze the collected data together with South Korean students.
The team wants to find out whether there are sand particles on Ryugu by using Hokkaido University’s Pirka Telescope in the city of Nayoro, which is capable of detecting particles as small as a thousandth of a millimeter across.
The rocky asteroid, which has an orbit that takes it near Earth and Mars, has been far from Earth for the past few years but will approach again by the end of next year. It will also appear at its brightest since its discovery in 1999.
The observation project is scheduled to be conducted between October 2020 and the first half of 2021.
Hiroshima University and the University of Hyogo are considering taking part in the project with their own observatories, and 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, taking the world’s first subsurface samples of an asteroid after creating a crater by firing a copper projectile at it.