Japan’s space agency (JAXA) said it has begun opening the capsule that has returned to Earth with its historic Hayabusa2 mission – and has confirmed the presence of samples from the asteroid inside.
Today, Monday, December 14, the capsule was opened for the first time since it landed in the Australian outback on December 6 after its journey through space.
Onboard the plane, scientists had hoped to find pieces of the asteroid Ryugu, which had amassed millions of kilometers from Earth – and now JAXA has confirmed the mission was a success.
“A black granular sample believed to be derived from the Ryugu asteroid was confirmed inside the sample container,” the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said. Short statement.
“These are thought to be the particles attached to the entrance to the sample holder (the container in which the sample is stored).”
The capsule hasn’t fully opened yet, which means there are likely more asteroid samples waiting inside.
But just confirming any samples at all is great news, as JAXA wasn’t sure how successful the sample capture would be.
Scientists will now spend years studying the specimen, hoping to learn more about the origins of Ryugu and the origins of life on Earth as well.
Hayabusa2 was launched in 2014 on a mission to collect samples from Ryugu – the second Japanese attempt to recover material from an asteroid since Mostly successful Hayabusa 1 in 2010.
Another mission, NASA OSIRIS-REx, is Also scheduled To recreate material from another asteroid, Bennu, in 2023.
After a four-year flight, the spacecraft reached Ryuju in June 2018. It then deployed several landers to the surface, before attempting to touch itself and pick up the materials.
It did this twice, once in February 2019 and again in July 2019, by firing a projectile at the surface and collecting material from a long sampling arm in the capsule container.
The second event was Particularly noticeableBecause the spacecraft had previously blown a hole in the asteroid to reveal virgin material beneath the surface for an attempt to collect.
These materials should return to the dawn of the solar system, which may reveal whether asteroids such as Ryugu gave the building blocks to life on Earth.
Scientists are also interested in knowing whether asteroids like Ryugu have a lot of water, and also if they do Mysterious seed-like rocks They are called chondrules.
However, the spacecraft had no way of knowing if its attempt to collect a sample had been successful.
Scientists had only expected to collect about one gram of asteroid material, but they had to wait until Hayabusa 2 returned to see how much, if any, of the sample was on board.
After leaving the asteroid in November 2019, Hayabusa2 finally returns to Earth in December 2020.
Here they launched the sample capsule, which entered the atmosphere again on December 6 and landed in Australia, where it was collected by scientists.
Gas was absorbed from the capsule after landing, which could contain volatiles from the asteroid such as water that could be studied.
Two days later, on December 8, the capsule was transported to the Sagamihara Campus in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, where scientists are now in the process of opening it.
Meanwhile, Hayabusa2 continued to return to space at a distance Extended mission To explore the smallest asteroid a spacecraft has ever visited, no larger than a blue whale.
But the main part of the mission has always been to return the sample to Earth. Now that a sample is confirmed in the capsule, the exciting analysis of the sample can soon begin.
“We will continue to open the sample holder in the sample container, and the organization and preliminary analysis team will take the sample and analyze it,” JAXA said in its statement.
And who knows what secrets await this wonderful mission.