Officials at the Japanese space agency said on Tuesday that they had found a “large number” of pitch-black rock and dust particles after opening a capsule returned to Earth by the Hayabusa 2 mission earlier this month, providing eager scientists with their first significant specimens. ever brought back from an asteroid.
Scientists working in a super-clean lab in Sagamihara, Japan, opened the first of three sample collection chambers in Hayabusa 2’s return capsule, starting to analyze the material in search of new insights into the history of the solar system.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which manages the Hayabusa 2 mission, released a photo on Tuesday in the nearly 2-inch wide (48-millimeter) container known as room A. The photo shows a small pile of black pebbles from Ryugu, a a half mile (900 meters) asteroid rich in carbon, a vital building block for life.
“This is believed to be the example of the first touchdown on Ryugu,” JAXA tweeted. “The photo looks brown, but our team says ‘black!’ The sample return is a great success! “
Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft appears to have returned more asteroid specimens than expected, scientists said, although an accurate measurement of how much material the mission has collected will have to wait for teams to open the capsule’s other two sample chambers.
Mission planners designed Hayabusa 2 to collect at least 100 milligrams of material from asteroid Ryugu. Engineers had no way of measuring the contents of the sample canister until it returned to Earth, but they were confident the spacecraft had collected the necessary material.
The trust appears to be well-founded.
The Hayabusa 2 spacecraft has released its sample return capsule for a super-hot reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. 5th of December. The nearly 16-inch (40-centimeter) monster carrier landed by parachute in Woomera, Australia, where Japanese teams were in position. to restore the capsule.
After the sample carrier was shipped to a “quick-look” inspection facility in Australia, the capsule was flown back to Japan on a corporate jet on December 7. Scientists took the return capsule to a recipient lab at a JAXA facility in Sagamihara, where it opened Room A on Monday (US time).
Hayabusa 2 used Chamber A to collect specimens collected during the first touch-and-go landing on asteroid Ryugu on February 21, 2019.
Scientists will then open up chambers B and C and the sample curation group will extract the asteroid material for analysis, JAXA said.
Chamber B should be empty – it was not used while Hayabusa 2 was near the asteroid – but scientists expect Chamber C to contain specimens collected during the mission’s second landing on Ryugu on July 10, 2019 (US time).
Hayabusa 2’s second touch-and-go landing was designed to capture pristine dust and rock excavated by an explosive impactor that shot the spacecraft into the asteroid. The subterranean specimens may hold additional clues about the origin and evolution of the asteroid, as they are protected from solar radiation and extreme weather from space exposure.
Before the first of Hayabusa 2’s three collection chambers even opened, Japanese scientists were encouraged by the discovery of black dust particles near the lid of the container.
JAXA said the Hayabusa 2 team also analyzed gas that was sealed in the return capsule. Scientists believe that the gas molecules, which differed from the composition of Earth’s atmosphere, were created by outgassing the asteroid specimens.
“This is the world’s first sample return of a gas state material from deep space,” JAXA said in a statement.
The return of the Hayabusa 2 mission to Earth earlier this month completed a six-year round trip to the asteroid Ryugu. The craft was launched aboard a Japanese H-2A missile in December 2014 and arrived near Ryugu in 2018 to begin investigations for several months before attempting its first landing.
The spacecraft dropped a fleet of landers and rovers in late 2018 to explore the asteroid’s surface, including a jumping robot developed by engineers in Germany and France.
Scientists are eager to analyze the specimens they expect to contain organic molecules. Researchers believe that asteroids like Ryugu, or a larger body like the one from which Ryugu split off, would have littered the Earth with the ingredients necessary for life.
Hayabusa 2 departed Ryugu in November 2019 to begin its journey back to Earth.
While Hayabusa 2 was in the home leg of its return journey, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft made its own short landing on asteroid Bennu, a rocky carbonaceous body similar in composition to Ryugu.
OSIRIS-REx collected significantly more asteroid material than Hayabusa 2 – perhaps several pounds of asteroid rocks – and is expected to depart Bennu early next year. The OSIRIS-REx sample capsule will arrive back on Earth in September 2023.
The Japanese and US missions share similar objectives, and JAXA and NASA have agreed to exchange a small portion of their asteroid samples for joint analysis by scientists from each country.
After releasing the sample return capsule on December 5, the parent spacecraft of the Hayabusa 2 mission – still loaded with plenty of propellant – completed three diversions to avoid a collision course with Earth. The spacecraft will return to the solar system for an extensive mission, including a rapid flyby of an asteroid in 2026 and an encounter with a small rapidly rotating space rock in 2031.
Hayabusa 2 is Japan’s second asteroid to return monsters.
An earlier mission, named Hayabusa, successfully returned its sample capsule to Earth in June 2010. But a series of technical issues, including a fuel leak and a malfunction in the sample collection mechanism, prevented Hayabusa from collecting any important material from a stony asteroid named Itokawa.
Despite the setbacks, Japanese scientists found microscopic particles of Itokawa in Hayabusa’s sample return carrier.
Hayabusa 2 carried out its mission without major problems, bringing home a lot more material from Ryugu, an asteroid covered in more primitive organic molecules than Itokawa, raising the hope that scientists would know more than 4.5 billion years ago. will come about the formation of the planets.
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