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Hayabusa2 asteroid sample

Japan confirms asteroid samples in space delivery from Hayabusa2 probe

Image credit: reuters

Soil and gas samples collected by Japanese probe Hayabusa2 have been confirmed to have originated from the Ryugu asteroid and that more material was collected than originally hoped for.

While scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) had been hopeful that the probe was successful in its mission, there was no way to know for sure whether the samples had been collected until they arrived back on Earth.

Hayabusa2 originally set off on its long journey in 2014 with the aim of collecting a sample of Ryugu, an asteroid which is believed to have been created at the dawn of the solar system.

The probe orbited above Ryugu for a few months before landing, then used small explosives to blast a crater and collected the resulting debris. The landings were more difficult than expected because of the asteroid’s extremely rocky surface.

They hope the matter retrieved will give them information about how materials are distributed in the solar system and could provide clues about the evolution of life on Earth.

Hayabusa2 asteroid sample

Image credit: reuters

Hayabusa2 began its 250-million kilometre journey home from the asteroid at the end of 2019.

“We were aiming for 100mg or more and we definitely got that,” said JAXA’s Hirotaka Sawada, who said he was speechless when he first glimpsed the sample.

“I think that next I probably screamed, I don’t really remember,” he told a news conference. “It was really different from what I expected; there was a fair amount.”

The pan-shaped capsule containing the sample was dropped by Hayabusa2 from space to a predetermined spot in a sparsely populated Australian desert location on 6 December. Jaxa scientists said they are particularly interested in the organic materials present in the sample.

The drop-off allows the probe to continue its mission, in which it intends to visit a smaller L-type asteroid and conduct observational fly-bys of exoplanets and potentially Venus.

The Ryugu samples are to be carefully removed and weighed to determine exactly how much has been obtained - a process that will take some time - before research can begin.

Following studies in Japan, some of the samples will be shared with Nasa and other international groups for additional research beginning in 2022.

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