For the primary time, scientists are about to get their (fastidiously gloved) palms on asteroid dust so previous it might comprise clues to how our photo voltaic system shaped and the way water acquired to Earth.
A capsule containing two smidgens of dirt from asteroid Ryugu arrived in Japan on December 7, the place researchers will lastly get an opportunity to measure how a lot was collected. The purpose of Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission was to gather no less than 100 milligrams of each floor and subsurface materials, and ship it again to Earth.
“Hayabusa2 is residence,” stated undertaking supervisor Yuichi Tsuda of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Company, or JAXA, at a information convention December 6, hours after the pattern return capsule landed efficiently in Woomera, Australia. “We collected the treasure field.”
Ryugu is an historic, carbon-rich asteroid with the texture of freeze-dried coffee (SN: 3/16/20). Planetary scientists assume it accommodates a few of the earliest solids to type within the photo voltaic system, making it a time capsule of photo voltaic system historical past.
Hayabusa2 explored Ryugu from June 2018 to November 2019, and grabbed two samples of the asteroid (SN: 2/22/19). One got here from inside an artificial crater that Hayabusa2 blasted into the asteroid’s floor, giving the spacecraft entry to the asteroid’s inside (SN: 4/5/19). On December 4, the spacecraft launched the pattern return capsule from about 220,000 kilometers above Earth’s floor. The capsule created a brilliant fireball because it streaked by way of Earth’s ambiance.
At a “fast look facility” in Woomera, gases the asteroid materials might have emitted had been initially analyzed. However the capsule received’t be opened till after it reaches the JAXA heart in Sagamihara, Japan.
Hayabusa2 is the second mission to efficiently return an asteroid pattern to Earth. The primary Hayabusa mission visited stony asteroid Itokawa and returned to Earth in 2010. Engineering and logistical issues meant that its return was years later than planned, and it grabbed just one,534 grains of asteroid materials (SN: 6/14/10).
For Hayabusa2, although, all the pieces appears to have gone in keeping with plan. The spacecraft itself nonetheless has sufficient gasoline to go to one other asteroid, 1998 KY26, which is smaller and spins quicker than Ryugu. It should examine how such asteroids might need shaped, how they maintain themselves collectively, and what would possibly occur if one collided with Earth. The spacecraft will attain that asteroid in July 2031, though it received’t take any extra samples.