Footage of the moment a Japanese space probe briefly touched down on the surface of an asteroid has been released by Japan‘s space agency, JAXA.
The incredible video shows the 59 seconds before Hyabusa 2 bounced off the surface of Ryugu and is played at five times real speed.
‘One small hand of mankind has reached for a new little star’, JAXA said in a tweet regarding the video.
Hyabusa 2 was travelling at a rate of 7 cm/s relative to the asteroid and fired a small probe at its surface to kick up debris.
This can be seen darting upwards away from the 3,300 foot (1 kilometre) wide asteroid that was hopefully captured by the spacecraft’s ‘sampler horn’.
The camera on-board which captured the footage was funded by public donations.
Hyabusa 2 will embark on at least one more controlled descent to Ryugu’s surface before embarking back to Earth at the end of the year.
If all went according to plan, the disturbed matter was collected by the craft and will be brought back to Earth for inspection, although it won’t land until 2020 when it’s dropped over Australia.
It is hoped the craft will bring with it intact and protected samples of Ryugu’s surface which may shed light on the early formation of the universe.
The asteroid itself is believed to be a remnant of the early solar system’s birth and understanding its geology could provide vital clues to piece together its, and Earth’s history.
The historic interaction occurred at 11pm GMT (6pm EST) on February 21 after a three-and-a-half year journey across the solar system.
Professor Alan Fitzsimmons, from Queen’s University in Belfast, told MailOnline that the samples it collects could shed light on the early solar system and help to explain where Earth got its water.
The purple circle shows the target area, while the white dot (indicated by the red arrow) is the marker placed on the surface prior to the extraction of matter, which will hopefully be returned to Earth
JAXA provided live updates as Hayabusa-2 descended to the surface of Ryugu (pictured). It ha snow released the footage of the historic moment
WHAT DO THE NAMES OF THE HYABUSA MISSION MEAN?
Names of the mission come from the Japanese fairy tale Urashima Tarō.
Ryugu was the name of a dragon king’s palace at the bottom of the ocean.
The landing site has been given the moniker Tamatebako.
This is a sacred treasure box of huge worth inside the palace.
The tale states that when it is opened, smoke pours out.
The names were chosen due to the cloud of dust kicked up when Hyabusa 2 collided with the asteroid’s surface.
Scientists also say the rocks due to be returned to Earth represent the treasure mentioned in the story.
‘We get information from the samples about what has happened to the asteroid since it formed, and test our theories of Solar System evolution,’ he said.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was forced to delay the descent for around five hours, but all eventually went forward according to plan.
Ryugu belongs to a primitive type of space rock known as a C-type, a space rock left over from the early days of the Solar System which mean it could provide invaluable insight into the history of solar system.
Ahead of its descent, the spacecraft dropped a ‘target marker’ on to Ryugu to be used as a guide as the spacecraft descends to the rough surface of the asteroid.
The spacecraft was guided to the surface slowly and carefully to avoid any damage to the sampler horn from large rocks on the surface.
Footage reveals rocks several inches in diameter being thrown up into space.
How it would’ve looked: An artist’s detailed impression of the historic spacecraft approaching the fast-travelling meteor, before it fired a metal object into it at 300 meters per second
This computer graphic image provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency shows the Japanese unmanned spacecraft Hayabusa2 approaching Ryugu
WHY IS JAXA STUDYING THE ASTEROID RYUGU?
Jaxa’s Hayabusa Two probe is on a mission to study the ancient asteroid Ryugu in a bid to help scientists better understand the origins of the universe.
The probe launched in December 2014 and arrived at the dice-shaped space rock on June 27, 2018.
Hayabusa Two is studying soil and rock samples using several pieces of equipment.
Hayabusa Two (artist’s impression) carries a number of experiments including four surface rovers and an explosive device designed to gouge out ‘fresh’ rock samples
The probe is loaded with four surface landers, an array of cameras and even an explosive device that will dig out subsurface rock samples.
Ryugu, a Type C asteroid, contains traces of water and organic material and it is hoped that analysing this material will reveal what the early conditions were like at the time the solar system formed around 4,6 billion years ago.
Hayabusa Two is expected to return to Earth in late 2020 carrying samples for further analysis.