Holiday gifts from space: Hayabusa2’s asteroid samples

Hayabusa2 spacecraft’s gift for Christmas? Soil samples that were collected from the asteroid Ryugu last year. 

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the Hayabusa2 spacecraft in June 2010 to collect and return asteroid samples to Earth. Last year, the spacecraft collected two sets of samples from two locations on the asteroid Ryugu, some 190 million miles from Earth. 

The samples dropped onto a target on the Australian Outback were brought back to Japan in early December. The first sample collected during the touchdown in February 2019 resembled sandy granules. 

Read Also: Evidence of a previously unknown asteroid about the size of Ceres

Soil samples, seen inside C compartment of the capsule brought back by Hayabusa2. Image: JAXA

The samples described by JAXA officials on Thursday are about 0.4 inches and rock hard and were collected from the sub-surface. Hayabusa2 collected these during the second touchdown in July 2019 by dropping an impactor to blast below the asteroid’s surface. Sub-surface samples would be unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors. 

According to Professor of Planetary Science Tomohiro Usui, the different sizes of the samples could be because the second touchdown was a hard bedrock, and the spacecraft was able to collect larger particles.

Scientists hope a complete study of the asteroid samples next year will provide insights into the formation of our solar system origins and the origins of life on Earth. 

Meanwhile, Hayabusa2 is continuing its expedition to another distant asteroid, 1998KY26. 

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