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Asteroid Ryugu sheds light on early formation of celestial objects

Date: 20 March 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

Asteroids are generally assumed to be as a hard rock material, with rough surface texture. But Japan’s space mission Hayabusa2 has revealed that the carbon-rich asteroid Ryugu’s surface is porous and light, thus throwing in new details into the theories on the formation of celestial bodies.

 

Background

Cosmic dust, meteorites, and asteroids floating around the solar system form important evidence in understanding the early history of the solar system.

 

Details

  • The Hayabusa 2 was designated to map the asteroid in orbit and then land to collect samples from its surface. The spacecraft is scheduled to re-enter Earth by the end of 2020 and will land in Australia. According to the researchers, the details from the asteroid samples could significantly alter the current timeline of planet formation in the solar system.

  • Porous, fragile asteroids like Ryugu could be the missing link in understanding how the cosmic dust evolves into massive celestial bodies. According to astronomers, the asteroid surface is about 50 per cent porous and was formed by the cosmic debris and dust by the collision of large space junk.

  • To understand the porosity, astronomers studied the surface temperature of the asteroid. The series of observations were made using a Thermal Infrared Imager (TIR) onboard Hayabusa2.

  • The main task of the spacecraft was to observe how the asteroid’s surface retains and releases heat. Just like the sand on the beach, porous rocks tend to change temperature more quickly than the hard ones, which can hold heat for longer durations.

  • Carbonaceous asteroids like Ryugu are believed to be the time-capsule of the infancy of the solar system when the celestial objects were continuously colliding and forming planets and asteroids. 

  • The Ryugu asteroid was first discovered in May 1999. Japan’s space agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched its mission Hayabusa2 in December 2014 to study the asteroid. Ryugu was examined by the spacecraft between June 2018 to November 2019.