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article imageJapanese spacecraft closes to within 920 km of asteroid Ryugu

By Karen Graham     Jun 15, 2018 in Science
Hayabusa2, JAXA's asteroid explorer, and the MASCOT lander, developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the French space agency (CNES) have been traveling through space since December 2014. The intrepid spacecraft is now 920 km from its target.
Since its launch from the Tanegashima Space Center on December 3, 2014, Hayabusa2 has undergone an initial functional confirmation period of about three months - and with all systems "go," by July 2015, it was proposed that asteroid “1999 JU3" be given a proper name.
As it turns out, the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) Team of the United States, which discovered 1999 JU3, proposed the suggested name of “Ryugu” to the International Asteroid Union (IAU), and it was finalized by being listed on the Minor Planet Names: Alphabetical List of the IAU Minor Planet Center in October 2015.
What kind of asteroid is Ryugu?
Asteroids are minor planets, especially those of the inner Solar System. A minor planet is an astronomical object in direct orbit around the Sun (or more broadly, any star with a planetary system) that is neither a planet nor exclusively classified as a comet.
This composite image shows the comparative sizes of eight asteroids.
This composite image shows the comparative sizes of eight asteroids.
Asteroids have classifications, too. The majority fall into three main groups: C-type, M-type, and S-type. These were named after and are generally identified with carbon-rich, metallic, and silicate (stony) compositions, respectively. The size of asteroids varies greatly; the largest is almost 1,000 km (625 mi) across.
Ryugu is classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid of the Apollo group. Interestingly, it is classified as both a C-type asteroid and a G-type asteroid. G-type asteroids are a relatively uncommon type of carbonaceous asteroid and make up about 5.0 percent of all asteroids. Ceres 1 is a G-type asteroid.
The Dragon’s palace, or the “Ryugu” Castle
The origin of the name "Ryugu" comes from an ancient Japanese story about a fisherman, "Urashima Taro." Depending on the version of the tale, the fisherman rescues a turtle and puts him back in the ocean. The turtle, grateful for the man saving its life, takes Urashima Tarō to the underwater palace known as Dragon Palace (Ryūgū).
Urashima Taro encounters children on the beach who are  toying with  a turtle.
The source is: 14. Ur...
Urashima Taro encounters children on the beach who are "toying with" a turtle. The source is: 14. Urashima Taro (うらしま太郎) in: Japanese Ministry of Education (1928) Jinjō shōgaku kokugo tokuhon, kan 3[1], Nihon Shoseki, pages 39–46. Circa: 1928.
Japanese Ministry of Education
After spending what he thought was just a few days with Otohime, a princess at the palace, the fisherman became very homesick and wanted to return to his family. The princess finally lets him go with a parting gift, a mysterious box called "tamatebako" whose lid he was told never to open.
When Tarō returned to his hometown, everything had changed. His home was gone, his mother and father had perished, and the people he knew were nowhere to be seen. Not remembering the princess's warning, he lifted the lid of the box. A cloud of white smoke arose, turning him into a white-haired old man.
Hayabusa2 has imaged Ryugu
Early Wednesday morning, June 13, 2018, the asteroid explorer released an image of Ryugu from a distance of 920 km [570 miles] with its Optical Navigation Camera – Telescopic' (ONC T). By Thursday morning, the distance between Hayabusa2 and Ryugu was less than 770 kilometers (478 miles) with a closing speed of 2.1 meters (6.66 feet) per second.
The exposure time is about 0.09 seconds. The part of the image that covers Ryugu is now about 10 pix...
The exposure time is about 0.09 seconds. The part of the image that covers Ryugu is now about 10 pixels in diameter. We are describing the shape seen so far as a "dango"-type, as it looks like the round dango Japanese sweet dumpling made from rice flour (they taste delicious and we can recommend trying one). However, the shape does seem a little more angular, says the JAXA team.
Ground observation team: JAXA, Kyoto University, Japan Spaceguard Association, Seoul National Univer
These measurements are important to Hayabusa2's planned arrival at the 3,000-foot-wide (900 meters) asteroid on June 27. If everything goes as planned, The spacecraft will orbit the asteroid for about a year, studying its features in depth, dropping three rovers and a lander onto the asteroid's surface.
Hayabusa2 also has a "collision device" that can create a crater artificially. Using the explosives-laden impactor to create a small hole, the spacecraft can then spiral down to snag samples of newly unearthed material. The plan is for Hayabusa2 to leave Ryugu at the end of 2019, returning to Earth in 2020.
The dwarf planet Ceres  also the largest asteroid in the solar system  is seen here in an amazing vi...
The dwarf planet Ceres, also the largest asteroid in the solar system, is seen here in an amazing view from the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA, ESA, J. Parker (Southwest Research Institute), L. McFadden (University of Maryland)
There has been a lot of talk about asteroid mining in the news of late. And as Digital Journal pointed out earlier this week, asteroid mining may be a nascent industry, but private companies and governments are already taking notice of the interest in mining asteroids.
NASA estimates that the total value of asteroids out there could be up to $700 quintillion – equivalent to £75 billion each for us here on Earth.
As of May 2018, the Asterank website, operated by Planetary Resources, speculates that the current value of Ryugu for mining purposes is US$82.76 billion. According to the website, Asterank is a scientific and economic database of over 600,000 asteroids.
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