Photographs clicked by a shoebox-sized probe which explored a near-earth asteroid named Ryugu has offered new hints about the astroid’s composition and insights which can help scientists in understanding the formation of our solar system.

The German-French made Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) hitched a ride on Japan’s Hayabusa2 spaceship and landed down on the surface of the 900-meter (3,000 feet) wide asteroid, whose orbit probably lay between Earth and Mars, as of October 3, 2018, when the mission was launched. Asteroid Ryugu’s gravity is about 66,500 times weaker than Earth’s. As a result, the forward motion of wheels would have launched MASCOT somewhere into deep space.

A close-up image of the rocks on Ryugu, taken by MASCOT.
Image captured by MASCOT

So instead, the spaceship hopped around the surface of Ryugu by utilising whatever little amount of momentum it could generate with the help of a metal swing arm attached to its boxy body that weighed around 10 kilograms.

Other than taking temperature readings and measurements, MASCOT captured a series of astounding pictures showing off the surface of Ryugu that was covered with rocks and boulders of two different kinds: one that’s dark and rough with crumbly surfaces resembling cauliflowers and the other, that was bright and smooth.

From this, it can be inferred that Ryugu is the product of some kind of violent process. According to researchers, Ryugu may be the “child” of two-parent bodies that crashed, broke up, and were then united by gravity.

Another theory states that this could have happened as a result of being struck by another body that created different interior temperature and pressure conditions within the surface, resulting in the formation of two types of materials.

Image of the surface of Ryugu captured by MASCOT

Most of the rocks also contained small blue and red “inclusions” – material that was trapped in the rock when it was formed – making them very much similar to a kind of rare, primitive meteorites found on Earth called carbonaceous chondrites‘. This material is a primitive material and was the very first material of the solar nebula or the cloud of interstellar dust and gas which helped in the creation of planets in our solar system.

Hayabusa2 will soon return to Earth carrying samples of Ryugu and MASCOT’s observations which will help in providing information about the debris’ primordial geologic content. This will help answer questions on the exact nature, composition and behaviour of the material found on this newfound cosmic object.

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