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Japan's Hayabusa2 probe will sample the Ryugu asteroid tonight! Here's how to watch

A Japanese spacecraft is aiming to grab the first blank sample of an asteroid to bring back to Earth tonight (July 10th), and you can watch it approaching the target now.

Hayabusa2 studying Ryugu space rock for a year now and has probably already sucked a sample of its surface. In April, the spaceship deployed a ball to create an artificial crater, by removing long weathered materials and exposing fresh rocks. The spacecraft spent weeks studying the new crater and determined that the site could be approached safely for another round of sampling. Now he is approaching the asteroid in a process that you can watch live images it is radiating towards the Earth.

"We confirmed that it was extremely likely that we could secure a second landing with the current capabilities of the Hayabusa2 team and the spacecraft," Hitoshi Kuninaka, director general of the Space Science Institute and astronautics of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), said in a statement. "We are confident that the success of this challenge will be a catalyst for the advancement of many future space science and exploration programs."

Related: Pow! The Japanese Hayabusa2 launches a crater on the asteroid Ryugu (Photo)

The sampling procedure should begin around 9:15 pm. EDT (11:15 GMT or 10:15 local time at JAXA Headquarters, July 11) and is approximately 40 minutes long, although this schedule may change as the spacecraft moves. During the slow approach, Hayabusa2 navigation camera returns images Ryugu in his line of sight. These images will stop flowing for a while before the touchdown, but JAXA will broadcast live from mission control, with translation into English, from 8:30 pm EDT (12:30 GMT on July 12).

Performing a second touchdown maneuver represents a real risk to the spacecraft and its mission because the operation is risky. Hayabusa2 first touchdown went smoothly, and Kuninaka confirmed that the agency thought the spacecraft was holding these samples. If something goes wrong, that success may disappear.

"When one wonders whether or not to perform the second touchdown, one could say that the cancellation of the second touchdown and the prioritization of the return to Earth are the safest option to ensure the first successes," he said. Kuninaka. "On the other hand, if the second test is successful, it is possible to collect subsurface materials and improve scientific results.However, this is accompanied by the possibility of serious damage or damage. A crisis that could threaten the return to Earth. "

During the course of the evaluation, the call for subsurface material convinced the team to take a more conservative approach. Hayabusa2 will now target an area near the crater he has created, attempting to collect a sample of ejecta or material thrown aside at impact.

Scientists on mission expect this material to be darker in color. This is because, buried under the surface until April, it was protected from cosmic rays and from charged solar wind particles going through the space. The second sampling will also help scientists to understand if Ryugu is uniform or has patches of different materials.

Today's sampling is one of the last major tasks of Hayabusa2 before the spaceship returns home. All that the spacecraft has left to do is deploy another mobile, named MINERVA-II2. Towards the end of the year, Hayabusa2 will say goodbye to Ryugu for good and bring back his precious cargo to Earth.

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her. @meghanbartels. follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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