Last November a Japanese spacecraft named Hayabusa came close to touching down on an astroid. The craft did return some interesting photographs. The pictures raise a number of questions that scientists will be struggling to answer for a few years to come.

The asteroid is approximately 500 meters across and considered one of the most common types of asteroids in our solar system and thus a good potential benchmark. The asteroid does not have water, but does have clear lake like configurations of small flat rocks.

1. Why do their appear to be loose bolder formations on this asteroid? The asteroid has a very low gravity, and it would seem to be difficult for the loose bolders to remain on the surface of a tumbling asteroid.

2. How did this particuluar asteroid form? Was it the result of an impact of two other asteroids or one that has been crumbling apart over time?

3. Previously, scientists suspected that small asteroids with low gravity were solid masses of rock, but this asteroid appears to be loose collections of rubble. What holds the rubble together?

One theory posits that asteroids and comments are compiled of the building blocks from the original creation of our solar system. Asteroids could help us explain how massess come together to form asteroids and even larger collections like moons or planets.

The big question from this trip will be answered in 2010. Did the Hayabusa actually touch down on the asteroid or was there a technical malfunction? Currently scientists don’t know and wel’ll have to wait and see if the Hayabusa brings back a sample of the asteroid.
Asteroid Probe Offers New Views of Near-Earth Object