After blasting off toward a diamond-shaped asteroid in 2014, Japan's Hayabusa 2 probe reached its target more than three years later. It then began mapping the rock known as Ryugu (which means "Dragon Palace" in Japanese) before sending two of its rovers down to its surface last September, followed by its MASCOT robot in October. The fruits of its labors arrived thereafter in the form of some epic images of the asteroid, including a detailed close-up of its surface. But it's not done yet. Next up, the probe itself will land on the surface at 8AM local time on February 22nd in order to begin collecting samples, Japan's space agency JAXA announced on Wednesday.
The new date follows a previous delay that saw the landing pushed from October to January as JAXA struggled to find a smooth spot to touchdown due to the ruggedness of the asteroid's surface. "The landing point is decided and how we're going to land is confirmed, so we want to do our best to achieve this without making mistakes," said JAXA project manager Yuichi Tsuda (per Phys.org).
Dotted between Earth and Mars, Ryugu's chemical composition is comprised of nickel, iron, cobalt, water, nitrogen, hydrogen and ammonia -- making it a prime target for scientists seeking to unlock the mysteries of the universe. Barring any more setbacks, Hayabusa 2 has until December to scoop up samples to bring back to Earth. Its ETA is December 2020.