spaceSpace and Physics

Japan’s “Diamond” Asteroid Team Had Fun Predicting What Shape It May Be Before They Arrived


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

This is what Ryugu actually looks like. But what did people think before they saw it? Jaxa et al

Yesterday the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 arrived at its target asteroid, Ryugu, and we now know it looks a bit like a diamond.

But before the spacecraft arrived, no one knew what Ryugu was going to look like. So the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) asked a few people involved in the mission to have a stab at drawing its shape.


Some of the predictions were serious, depicting it as a rock not too dissimilar to other asteroids we’ve seen. But some of the others were a bit more comical, from a human to a spiky sea urchin. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Below, the Director General of JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Sciences, Hitoshi Kuniaka, provided his own view. This was depicted it as, uh, a giant person – with a spin axis helpfully included.

Hitoshi Kuniaka/JAXA

Then Hiromitsu Kohsaka, who directed a documentary about the mission called Hayabusa 2 – Return to the Universe had his own go, coming up with a pretty odd shape.

“I tried to draw the worst possible pattern, so that even when the asteroid is rotated, there is no change in the light intensity,” he said. “I pray that the actual Ryugu is not like this (haha)! If we assume this imaginary picture is accurate, then nothing can scare us (haha)!”

Hiromitsu Kohsaka

Artist Akihiro Ikeshita, meanwhile, responsible for many of the artist’s impressions of the spacecraft itself, went for a slightly more mundane option. “As this turned out rather uninteresting, I'll be happy if Ryugu betrays this in a good way,” he said.

Akihiro Ikeshita

Next up we’ve got Tomohiro Yamaguchi, who imagined a sort of sea urchin shape for the asteroid. “I assumed the worst case,” he said.

Tomohiro Yamaguchi/JAXA

The two-year-old daughter of Kanako Sakamoto, who works on the sampling team (mother, not daughter), also had a go with the help of rice and chocolate. “If I take a lot of samples here then I will end up with a full stomach,” the team said in response.

Kanako Sakamoto/JAXA

Atsushi Fujii from the ground systems team imagined a cake. Because who doesn’t like cake?

Atsushi Fujii/JAXA

And Go Ono, on the Altitude and Orbit Control Subsystem (AOCS) team, obviously had football (or, yes, soccer) on the brain.


Finally, we’ll leave you with this effort from Ryudu Tsukizaki, responsible for the ion engines on the spacecraft. He swears it’s a peach. Not that other thing you were thinking.

Ryudu Tsukizaki/JAXA


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