A large number of particles have been confirmed to be in “sample chamber A” in the collected capsule (~ 11:10 JST on 12/15). This is believed to be the example from the first touchdown on Ryugu. The picture looks brown, but our team says “black”! The sample return is a great success! pic.twitter.com/34vIx17zOXDecember 15, 2020
Japanese scientists got their first look at the sample capsule of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft, and even the first look is promising.
The Hayabusa2 spacecraft was launched in 2014, heading for a near-Earth asteroid called Ryugu. The mission arrived in Ryugu in 2018 and spent about a year and a half observing and sampling the asteroid before taking off last year to deposit its sample capsule in Earth’s atmosphere. On December 5, the capsule landed in the Woomera Prohibited Area in Australia; Scientists from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which is leading the mission, then flew the capsule to Japan.
On Monday (December 14), mission personnel got a look inside the capsule for the first time. “We have confirmed that there were black grains from Ryugu,” said representatives of the mission wrote on Twitter. “This is located outside the main chambers and there are probably particles attached to the entrance of the sample catcher.”
Related: Japan’s Hayabusa2 asteroid Ryugu monster reentry mission in photos
The sample container in the re-entry capsule was opened on December 14 and we confirmed that there were black granules from Ryugu. This is outside the main chambers and probably particles are attached to the entrance of the sample catcher. (English release available tomorrow) https://t.co/NAw1R1cjvy pic.twitter.com/5BfXxfH29hDecember 14, 2020
Scientists later opened one of the three sample chambers and confirmed that it contained a fair amount of asteroid dust. Those rooms hold the real treasures: they’re where the Hayabusa2 spacecraft left the pieces of Ryugu it got stuck during two collection maneuvers.
During one of those sampling attempts, the spacecraft picked up rocks from the surface of the asteroid; during the second, it fired a copper bullet inside the asteroid to expose underground material. The combination should enable scientists to understand how the harsh environment of space has affected Ryugu’s surface.
Another early procedure performed on the newly returned capsule was to measure gases trapped in it in case some of that gas comes from Ryugu itself.
JAXA has not yet announced when scientists will start seriously analyzing the asteroid bits. Despite Earth’s advanced fleet of spacecraft, analyzing pieces of other worlds in terrestrial labs still gives scientists far more powerful ways to answer planetary science questions.
Since asteroids are primal debris left over from the formation of the solar system, scientists hope that studying these Ryugu monsters will help them understand the early days of the solar system.
Email Meghan Bartels at mbarte[email protected] or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.