Tokyo (AP) – A Japanese spacecraft is near Earth after a year-long journey from a distant asteroid with soil samples and data, a space agency official said on Friday. Said to
The Hayabusa 2 spacecraft left the asteroid Rayugu about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth a year ago, and is expected to reach Earth and release a capsule containing precious specimens in southern Australia on 6 December.
Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency believe that the samples were taken from below the surface of the asteroid, in particular, containing valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors.
Hayabusa 2’s project mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa said that scientists are particularly interested in the analysis of organic materials in Rugu soil samples.
Yoshwawa said, “Organic materials are the origin of life on Earth, but we still (asterisks) don’t know where they came from.” “We are hoping to find clues to the origin of life on Earth by analyzing the details of organic materials brought back by Hayabusa 2.”
The space agency, JAXA, plans to release a capsule containing specimens in a remote, populated area in space 220,000 kilometers (136,700 mi) away in Australia that needs precise control. The capsule, protected by the heat shield, will turn into a fireball during re-entry into the atmosphere 200 kilometers (125 mi) above the ground. At a distance of about 10 kilometers (6 mi) above ground, a parachute would be ready for landing, and beacon signals would be transmitted to indicate this location.
JAXA staff have installed satellite dishes at several locations in the target area to capture the signal, as well as marine radars, drones, and helicopters to aid in search and retrieval missions.
Yoshikawa told reporters that without those measures, it would be very difficult to find pan-shaped capsules with a diameter of 40 centimeters (15 in).
For Hayabusa 2, this is not the end of the mission launched in 2014. After dropping the capsule, it will return to space and head to another distant small asteroid, which is expected to take 10 years in a journey called 1998KY26.
Hayabusa 2, despite its extremely rocky surface, touched Ryugu twice and successfully collected data and samples during the 1 arriving year after arriving there in June 2018.
In the first touchdown in February 2019, it collected surface dust samples. In July, it collected underground samples from the asteroid for the first time in space history after landing in a crater that had previously created it by destroying the asteroid’s surface.
Scientists said there are traces of carbon and organic matter in the asteroid soil samples. JAXA hopes to see how the material is distributed in the solar system and how it relates to life on Earth.
Asteroids, which orbit the Sun but are much smaller than the planets, are among the oldest objects in the solar system and can therefore help explain how the Earth evolved.
The spacecraft took 3 and a half years to arrive in Ryugu, but the journey home was too short due to the current locations of Ryugu and Earth.
Ryugu in Japanese means “Dragon Palace,” the name of a sea floor palace in a Japanese folk tale.
Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at hpps: //www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi