Science

Spacecraft takes photos as it approaches ‘sweet dumpling' asteroid

Ryugu is ‘potentially hazardous', according to the Japanese space agency, Jaxa.

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Pictures of a potentially hazardous asteroid which looks like a “sweet dumpling” have been beamed to Earth by a Japanese spacecraft.

Hayabusa 2, which was launched in 2014, is now about 215 km (133 miles) away from the newly-photographed asteroid Ryugu.

The spacecraft is expected to arrive at the asteroid on June 27.

Jaxa, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, will monitor the object for a year-and-a-half and collect rocky samples to bring back to Earth.

The new images of the asteroid were captured by Hayabusa 2’s onboard camera when it was between 700km and 650km away (434-403 miles). They have been shared as a gif.

In the animation, the asteroid surface appears to be very angular, and pitted with dents or craters, Jaxa said, with one large crater exceeding 200 metres in diameter.

Makoto Yoshikawa, Hayabusa 2 mission manager at Jaxa, likened the images to those taken by Nasa’s OSIRIS-REx of the asteroid Bennu.

He said: “So far, the asteroids we have explored have been different in shape, so Ryugu and Bennu could be the first time two similar-shaped asteroids have been examined.

“It will be interesting to clarify exactly what this similarity means scientifically.”

Ryugu’s orbit is retrograde, which means it is moving in the opposite direction to the Sun and the Earth.

Its diameter is about 900 metres and looks like a “sweet dumpling”, according to Jaxa, with the equatorial part wider than the poles.

Ryugu, which is short for 162173 Ryugu, has been classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid, meaning it has the capability to make exceptionally close approaches to the Earth and is large enough to cause significant damage in the event of impact.

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