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Ryugu’s North and South Poles

The asteroid explorer Hayabusa2 made numerous observations during the one year and five months it spent in the vicinity of Ryugu. But it basically remained above Ryugu’s equator the entire time, the equator being the bulge in the middle.
Hayabusa2 could not just fly off at any time to Ryugu’s North or South Pole to explore its polar regions. But project manager Yuichi Tsuda did, surprisingly, formulate a plan to put the explorer through some complex maneuvers so that it could circle Ryugu in a North-South direction and observe its polar regions if need be. The team even went so far as to study what orbit the explorer should enter for that purpose.
The plan was never implemented, but it was adapted for another mission, when in September 2019 the explorer released a target marker to observe Ryugu’s gravitational field. That target marker was injected into the same orbit as the one considered for Hayabusa2 itself. This time NEC supported the mission, as the risks involved were negligible. Some beautiful images were captured of the target marker flying over the asteroid like a tiny satellite.

Asteroid Ryugu taken at 3:40 on June 26, 2018(JST)
The equator being the bulge in the middle.
©JAXA, Chiba Institute of Technology, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Meiji University, University of Aizu, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology

Interview and article by Ayano Akiyama
Published March 30, 2020

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