Hayabusa2 arrives at the carbonaceous asteroid 162173 Ryugu—A spinning top–shaped rubble pile

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Science  19 Apr 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6437, pp. 268-272
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav8032

Hayabusa2 at the asteroid Ryugu

Asteroids fall to Earth in the form of meteorites, but these provide little information about their origins. The Japanese mission Hayabusa2 is designed to collect samples directly from the surface of an asteroid and return them to Earth for laboratory analysis. Three papers in this issue describe the Hayabusa2 team's study of the near-Earth carbonaceous asteroid 162173 Ryugu, at which the spacecraft arrived in June 2018 (see the Perspective by Wurm). Watanabe et al. measured the asteroid's mass, shape, and density, showing that it is a “rubble pile” of loose rocks, formed into a spinning-top shape during a prior period of rapid spin. They also identified suitable landing sites for sample collection. Kitazato et al. used near-infrared spectroscopy to find ubiquitous hydrated minerals on the surface and compared Ryugu with known types of carbonaceous meteorite. Sugita et al. describe Ryugu's geological features and surface colors and combined results from all three papers to constrain the asteroid's formation process. Ryugu probably formed by reaccumulation of rubble ejected by impact from a larger asteroid. These results provide necessary context to understand the samples collected by Hayabusa2, which are expected to arrive on Earth in December 2020.

Science, this issue p. 268, p. 272, p. 252; see also p. 230


The Hayabusa2 spacecraft arrived at the near-Earth carbonaceous asteroid 162173 Ryugu in 2018. We present Hayabusa2 observations of Ryugu’s shape, mass, and geomorphology. Ryugu has an oblate “spinning top” shape, with a prominent circular equatorial ridge. Its bulk density, 1.19 ± 0.02 grams per cubic centimeter, indicates a high-porosity (>50%) interior. Large surface boulders suggest a rubble-pile structure. Surface slope analysis shows Ryugu’s shape may have been produced from having once spun at twice the current rate. Coupled with the observed global material homogeneity, this suggests that Ryugu was reshaped by centrifugally induced deformation during a period of rapid rotation. From these remote-sensing investigations, we identified a suitable sample collection site on the equatorial ridge.

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