Japan has opened a capsule of Hayabusa 2, which confirms that it contains samples from the asteroid Ryugu


The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) says it has begun opening the capsule returned to Earth by its historic Hayabusa 2 mission – and has confirmed that samples of the asteroid are inside.

Today, Monday, 14 December, the capsule was first opened as it touched down on 6 December following its journey into space below the Australian Outback.

On board, scientists were hoping to find fragments of the asteroid Ryug collected millions of kilometers from Earth – and now Jaxa has confirmed the mission’s success.

“A black granular specimen believed to have been obtained from the asteroid was confirmed inside the specimen container,” Jaxa said in a small statement.

“It is believed to be particles attached to the entrance of the sample catcher (the container in which the sample is stored).”

The entire capsule is yet to be opened, meaning that there are likely to be more samples of the asteroid inside.

But none of the samples were confirmed yet, which is fantastic news, as JAXA was not sure how successful the sample capture was.

Scientists will now take several years to study the specimen, it is expected to know more about the origin of Rayugu and the origin of life on Earth.

Hayabusa2 was launched on a mission to collect samples from Japan’s second attempt to obtain material from an asteroid since Ryugu – the most successful Hayabusa1 in 2013.

Another mission, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx, is also scheduled to return material from another asteroid, Bennu, in 2023.

After a four-year journey, the spacecraft arrived in Ryugu in June 2018. She then positioned several landers on the surface, attempting to touch herself and scoop the material.

He did this by firing a projectile at the surface and collecting a long sample arm in a capsule container, once in February 2014 and once in July 2014.

The second incident was particularly notable, as the spacecraft detonated a pit in the asteroid to uncover ancient subsurface material for the first collection effort.

This material should return by the dawn of the solar system, potentially suggesting that if an asteroid like Ryugu can deliver the building blocks of life on Earth.

Scientists are also interested in finding out if asteroids like Ryugu have too much water, as well as mysterious seed-like rocks such as chondroles.

However, the spacecraft had no way of knowing whether the two attempts to collect the sample had been successful.

Scientists only expected to collect about a gram of material from the asteroid, but had to wait until Hayabusa 2’s return to see how much – if any – sample was on board.

After leaving the asteroid in November 2019, Hayabusa 2 finally returned to Earth in December 2020.

Here it released a sample capsule, which re-entered our atmosphere on 6 December and touched down in Australia, where it was collected by scientists.

Gas was sucked out of the capsule after touchdown, in which water could be studied as if asteroid could evaporate.

Two days later, on 8 December, the capsule was taken to Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, Sagamihara Campus, Japan, where scientists have now begun the process of opening it.

Meanwhile, Hayabusa 2 continued to go back into space on an extended mission to locate the smallest asteroid known by the spacecraft, which is no larger than the Blue Whale.

But the main part of the mission was always returning to sample Earth. And now that the presence of a specimen in the capsule has been confirmed, exciting analysis of the specimen may begin soon.

“We will continue to open the sample catcher in the sample container, and the curation and preliminary analysis team will extract and analyze the sample,” Jaxa said in his statement.

And who knows what secrets await this fascinating mission.

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