Scientists in Japan said on December 15 that they were “speechless” when they saw how much asteroid dust was inside a capsule delivered by Hayabusa-2 space probe in an unprecedented mission.
The Japanese spacecraft collected surface dust and clean material from the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 million kilometers away, last year during two daring phases of its six-year mission.
This month, it released a capsule containing the evidence, which created a fireball as it entered Earth’s atmosphere and landed in the Australian desert before being transported to Japan.
Scientists from the Japanese space agency JAXA removed the screws from the inner container of the capsule on Tuesday, after they had already found a small amount of asteroid dust in the outer shell, a AFP said the report.
“When I actually opened it, I was speechless. It was more than we expected and there were so many that I was really impressed,” said JAXA scientist Hirotaka Sawada. “There were no fine particles like dust, but there were a lot of samples that measured a few millimeters wide.”
The capsule thrown by the Japanese spacecraft “Hayabusa-2 in a container box arrives at the research unit of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency in Sagamihara, near Tokyo, on Tuesday, December 8. (Photo credit: Yu Nakajima / Kyodo News via AP)
Scientists hope that the material will shed light on the formation of the universe and can provide clues as to how life began on Earth. They have not yet revealed whether the material inside is equal to or perhaps even more than the 0.1 grams they said they hope to discover.
Seiichiro Watanabe, a Hayabusa Project scientist and professor at Nagoya University, said he is still excited. “There’s a lot (of evidence) and it seems to contain a lot of organic matter,” he said. “So I hope we can learn a lot about how organic substances developed on Ryugu’s parent body.”
Half of Hayabusa-2The evidence will be shared between JAXA, the US space agency NASA and other international organizations. The rest will be stored for future studies as advances in analytical technology are made. But the work is not over for the spacecraft, which will now begin an extensive mission to two new asteroids.
Earlier this year, in October, of the Godmother OSIRIS-REx The spacecraft has successfully collected evidence from the asteroid Bennu, which is over 200 million miles (321 million kilometers) from Earth. The spacecraft, which was launched in September 2016, captured dust and rocks from a sample of Bennu called Nightingale. They are expected to return them to Earth by 2023, after they began their return journey in March 2021, when Bennu and Earth will align correctly in their orbits.
In addition to revealing additional information about how the solar system was formed, the Bennu evidence will be crucial to better understanding asteroids that could impact the Earth in the future. According to NASA, Bennu is a potentially dangerous asteroid that could one day threaten the planet.