The Japanese space agency has recovered a pill carrying the first rock samples from the surface of an asteroid that scientists say could give clues about the origin of the solar system and life on our planet.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said on Saturday that the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft launched a small capsule to send samples from the asteroid Ruge, 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) away.
“The capsule collection at the landing site is complete,” the agency said in a tweet four hours after the capsule arrived.
“We practiced a lot today and it ended safely.”
NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft has successfully captured surface samples from the asteroid Benu, returning the capsule with the world’s first asteroid samples weeks later. Meanwhile, China this week collected its lunar lander underground samples and sealed them to return to Earth inside the spacecraft as space-developing nations compete in their missions.
I am pleased to have successfully recovered the pills that Hayabusa 2 brought back after six years of space travel after launch. We would like to pay tribute to the successful project manager Professor Sooda and all the people involved, and look forward to the further success of Hayabusa 2, which has embarked on a new exploration without a break.# ഹയാബൂസ 2 pic.twitter.com/RHiXyzZif1
– Prime Minister’s Residence (ant Kante) December 5, 2020
Early Sunday morning, the capsule turned into a fireball as it re-entered the atmosphere 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Earth.
At an altitude of about 10 km (6 miles) above the ground, a parachute opened to slow its fall and transmitted beacon signals to indicate its location.
Celebrating a successful capsule return and safe landing from a command center in Sagamihara, near Tokyo, Jaxa’s Hayabusa 2 project manager Yuichi Sooda said, “It was great… It was a beautiful fireball, it surprised me.
“I have been waiting for this day for six years.”
The capsule landed 220,000 km (136,700 miles) after being detached from Hayabusa 2 in a challenging operation that required precise control.
About two hours after re-entering the capsule, Jaxa said he found the capsule in a planned landing area in a remote, sparsely populated area of Woomera, Australia. The recovery of the pan-shaped pill, about 40 cm (15 in) in diameter, was completed approximately two hours later.
Jaxa officials said they expect the capsule to be brought back to Japan next week after a preliminary safety test at an Australian lab.
Samples go for analysis at the Woomera test range. @ haya2e_jaxa UsAusAirForce EpDeptDefence # ഹയാബൂസ 2 https://t.co/eBIukNPTgu pic.twitter.com/AK0C7TCArk
– Australian Space Agency (us space agency) December 6, 2020
Objects collected from the asteroid are believed to have remained unchanged since the formation of the universe. Large celestial bodies, such as the Earth, underwent radical changes, including heating and solidification, changing the structure of objects on their surface and below.
But “these substances have not melted in the case of smaller planets or asteroids, so it is believed that the matter is still there 4.6 billion years ago,” mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa told reporters before the capsule arrived.
Scientists are especially careful to find out if the samples contain organic matter, which may have helped seed life on Earth.
“We still do not know the origin of life on Earth. If, through this Hayabusa-2 mission, we are able to learn and understand these organisms from Ryug, these organisms are the source of life on Earth,” Yoshikawa said.
Half samples of the Hayabusa-2 will be shared between Jaxa, the US space agency NASA and other international organizations, and the rest will be stored for future study as advanced in analytical technology.
For Hayabusa 2, this is not the end of the mission that began in 2014. It will now take 10 years for the 1998 1998 KY26 asteroid. For research, including finding ways to prevent a meteorite from hitting the ground.
So far, its mission has been a complete success. It also touched down in Rഗguez twice between the asteroid’s extreme rocks, successfully collecting data and samples during the one-and-a-half years spent near Rഗguez since arriving there in June 2018.
During the first touchdown in February 2019, it collected surface dust samples. In July of that year, a more challenging mission collected underground samples from the asteroid for the first time in space history.
Asteroids that orbit the Sun and are much smaller than the planets are one of the oldest objects in the Solar System, so it may help explain how the Earth evolved.