All eyes will be on space on Friday when Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) tries to land a spacecraft on a far-flung asteroid.
The spacecraft, called the Hayabusa2, is entering its final descent towards the Ryugu asteroid and will attempt to land on it on Friday, according to the Associated Press. If successful, the spacecraft will mine the asteroid for any information on the formation of the solar system. Researchers also hope to find clues into how life started on Earth, according to the report.
Actually landing on the asteroid, however, won’t be easy. The space rock has a diameter of just 3,000 feet. And since it’s 170 million miles from Earth, it takes about 20 minutes for JAXA’s commands to reach the spacecraft. To make matters worse, the Hayabusa2 will only be able to land on a circular area that’s just 20 feet in diameter. If it lands anywhere to the sides of that circle, the mission will fail.
According to the AP, JAXA will have control over Hayabusa2 until it gets to about 1,600 feet above the asteroid’s surface. At that point, the agency’s scientists will need to wait with baited breath to see if their calculations were correct and the Hayabusa2 safely landed.
Once the Hayabusa2 lands, it’ll shoot a metal material into the asteroid to send particles into space. It’ll then take off from the asteroid and collect those samples. JAXA hopes to land on the asteroid three times and bring those samples back to Earth for study.