This is Itokawa, a near-Earth asteroid that was investigated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa probe in September of 2005. The probe made a brief landing on the asteroid on November 19th of the same year, and again on the 25th, in an attempt to collect samples of the asteroid’s material, and also captured several images of Itokawa. The one above has been wonderfully calibrated by Gordan Ugarkovic.
In addition to the high relief shown by the low angle of sunlight on the asteroid, this image also shows how Itokawa is basically a loose collection of space rubble, held together by gravity. It resembles an elongated chunk of concrete….a chunk of concrete a third of a mile long and soaring through space. It’s suggested that the asteroid may be in fact two smaller bodies that have collided and stuck together.
Itokawa’s orbit crosses that of Earth and Mars, and at times is even closer to the sun than we are. It is estimated that there’s a chance it may impact Earth in the next few million years. Stay tuned. 😉
The Hayabusa probe will return its collected samples to Earth in June of next year, whatever it may have succeeded in obtaining. It’s not yet sure what, if anything, was collected, but the capsule will be landing in South Australia in 2010 regardless.
Image credit: ISAS/JAXA/Gordan Ugarkovic.