Incredibly, two mini-robots that look like one of those round floor cleaners are hopping around a comet, another giant leap for mankind’s understanding of who we are.
It’s a great accomplishment of firsts for the JAXA, the space agency of Japan, and has their scientists doing the asteroid hop.
Now don’t be thinking this is a personal, derriere issue. Nope. The asteroid hop is how two dinner plate-sized interplanetary spacecraft are getting about a half-mile cosmic rock that looks like a cube called Ryuga.
The gravity is so low the 7-inch round, 2.5-pound robots hop like a frog using a torque generated by rotating masses within the rovers, called Rover 1A and Rover 1B. They are literally doing the “hop, hop, hop, the asteroid hop. Hop, hop, hop, the asteroid hop.”
Hopefully they will hop around asteroid Ryuga for a couple months, sending data to the mother ship orbiting the asteroid, Hayabusa 2. And the photos are incredible!
Asteroid 162173 Ryugu (formerly designated 1999 JU3) is a primitive carbonaceous near-Earth asteroid. Carbonaceous asteroids are expected to preserve the most pristine materials in the Solar System, a mixture of minerals, ice, and organic compounds that interact with each other. Studying it is expected to provide additional knowledge on the origin and evolution of the inner planets and, in particular, the origin of water and organic compounds on Earth.
Late October, Hayabusa 2 is going to attempt to bring back some tiny pieces of Ryuga. The whole 1,000 pound, 4-foot square spacecraft with a 19-foot solar panel wingspan will gently lower itself to touch the asteroid with a funnel. A pellet will be fired to disperse soil into a collector, and up to 10 grams will hopefully harvested in three containers. Then next year, it will fire a larger projectile to create a 6-foot crater and reveal the pristine interior for another close sample. In December 2019 Hayabusa 2 will end its science mission and head back to Earth, a capsule with the precious asteroid samples being retrieved in December 2020 by in-flight parachute capture after reentry in our atmosphere. It’s quite a mission and you should check it out at: http://www.hayabusa2.jaxa.jp/en/.
Deeply involved in this Japanese asteroid mission is Brian May, the lead guitarist from the British rock band, Queen. He is Dr. May, a Solar System expert who has created a stereoscopic image of Ryugu from photographs captured with the camera onboard Hayabusa2, which helped plan the landing and exploration sites.
Dr. Brian May, a rock legend, has a doctoral degree in astrophysics from Imperial College London. He advocates public awareness of asteroids that pose a potential threat to the Earth from meteorites. As part of this, May is a core member of “Asteroid Day” on June 30th, formed in 2015 to increase awareness of asteroids and discuss action that can be taken to protect the Earth.
SKIES THIS WEEK – The Moon moves into the after midnight scene with Last Quarter on Tuesday, Oct. 2, so that leaves the fabulous Milky Way visible without moonshine ruining the view. The next two weeks, and two more weeks in October, will be the last chance for “Shutterbugs” to get their digital cameras focused on the long arm of our Galaxy that stretches up from the south to overhead.
PLANETS STRING THE NIGHT SKY – The beautiful display of the ecliptic continues as four planets span the south skies from west to east: Venus is its brightest of the year, and a thin crescent in a telescope; next is yellow Jupiter, its moons visible in any binoculars held steady; reddish Antares is the next bright star, the heart of Scorpius; Saturn glows yellow at the top of Sagittarius in the midst of the Milky Way; and you can’t miss Mars, the most red “star” you’ll ever see, bright now but fading to the level of Antares in a couple months.
AUTUMN TAKES HOLD – Daylight is less than 12 hours, and while stargazers like the early darkness, planets and animals—and most humans—don’t. The metamorphosis has begun, the landscape begins to decay in a blaze of glory while the creatures of nature make plans for the cold winter. The sky is also in transition, and quickly the vibrant Summer stars are being replaced by the not-so-bright stars of Autumn. Keep looking skyward with a star map and you’ll see the change. You can download a free star map at Skymap.org. And don’t forget, the local library is filled with lots of how-to books for curious stargazers. Want a great planetarium program in your Smartphone or computer? I use Stellarium.org, but there are many sky map apps to choose from. If you have one, use it often and you’ll get into the rhythm of the night sky