The following series of events is not fiction: fly a probe to an asteroid, bounce off that asteroid while grabbing a piece of it, and fling that sample back to Earth. This series of activities is exactly what JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission is in the middle of doing. (And by the way, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is working on the exact same thing, just on a timeline a year behind Hayabusa2.)
Hayabusa2 grabbed its first sample from the surface of a near-Earth asteroid named Ryugu in February 2019. (A second sample was collected in July after it blasted a small crater to expose sub-surface material.) A new study published by the team this week details what the probe saw at the sampling site—including remarkable video of the touchdown itself.
We have touchdown
As the probe touched Ryugu’s surface, it fired a small projectile into it, catching some of the debris in an open “sampling horn” before bouncing away and re-establishing its orbit. These samples will return to the Earth later this year, but for now, the scientists are establishing what we know about the areas they came from.