Photo/IllutrationA picture of the asteroid “Ryugu” taken by the Hayabusa 2 probe from about 100 kilometers away (Provided by JAXA)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) released photos of “spinning top” asteroid Ryugu on June 21, captured by the Hayabusa 2 probe on the day before.

The asteroid, photographed from a distance of about 100 kilometers, appears to have craters and small lumps of rock on its surface.

Its spinning top shape is characteristic of relatively small asteroids, which rotate fast, but in Ryugu’s case the form is remarkable, as the asteroid measures 900 meters in diameter and it spins relatively slowly, taking about seven and a half hours to complete one rotation.

Makoto Yoshikawa, mission manager and associate professor at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, said of Ryugu’s shape, “Scientifically, it is very surprising.

“It is possible that its rotation slowed for some reason. A detailed examination might allow us to determine the evolution of spinning-top shaped asteroids and the mechanism behind their formation,” said Yoshikawa.

The Hayabusa 2 is the successor to the original Hayabusa probe, which returned particles from an asteroid to Earth for the first time. It is scheduled to stay at Ryugu for about a year and a half before returning to Earth in 2020 with samples of the asteroid.