The Hayabusa2 spacecraft has gone from gazing at its target asteroid from a distance to getting all up into Ryugu's personal space. Japan's space agency JAXA announced on Tuesday its asteroid explorer has officially rendezvoused with its target.
It's been a long journey to the asteroid, which is around 3,000 feet (900 meters) wide. The spacecraft launched back in 2014. Hayabusa2 is now about 12 miles (20 kilometers) away from the space rock and maintaining a consistent distance.
The mission team will observe the asteroid and survey it in preparation for the sample-collection part of the mission. Hayabusa2, like its predecessor Hayabusa, will attempt to return a bit of the asteroid to Earth.
JAXA will also try to place a lander and three small rovers onto Ryugu's surface. That part of the mission poses some challenges due to the asteroid's gemstone-like shape and large craters. JAXA will have to choose the landing area carefully.
NASA classifies Ryugu as potentially hazardous due to its size and path through space, but it doesn't currently pose a threat to Earth.
Scientists hope to learn more about the origin and evolution of the solar system by studying Ryugu. Hayabusa2 is scheduled to spend about a year and a half at the asteroid and then return to its home planet in 2020.