(CNN) – The first sample collected from material below the surface of the asteroid has reached Earth.
Japan’s Aerospace Agency mission Hayabusa2 dropped a sampling capsule before moving on to the next part of the expanded mission: visiting more asteroids.
The mission will continue to share updates via its Twitter account, Hayabusa2 @ JAXA.
The capsule appeared as a small fireball that swept the back of Australia into the sky early Sunday morning, re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Fireball was witnessed around 12:30 pm ET on Saturday – 4:30 pm Australian time on Sunday.
The mission team used the capsule beacon to assess its landing location and searched it by helicopter.
They were at their intended landing site with a parachute around 2:47 p.m. ET. The capsule is collected and moved to the team’s temporary “headquarters” in Sumera.
Launched on December 3, 2014, Hayabusa2 arrived on Earth in the asteroid Ryugu in June 2018. On February 22, 2019, the spacecraft collected one sample from the surface of the asteroid, then fired a copper “bullet” into the asteroid to form a 33-foot-wide impact crater. A sample of this crater was collected on July 11, 2019.
Then Hayabusa2 left the asteroid in November 2019 and went back to Earth.
The mission’s science team generally believes that 1 gram of material was collected, but they can’t be sure until it is opened.
“One gram may sound small, but for us, one gram is huge,” Masaki Fujimoto, deputy director general of the JAXA Solar Systems Department, said during an online briefing at the Australian Science Media Center. “That’s enough to address our scientific issues.”
The agency’s first Hayabus mission returned samples of the asteroid Itokawa on Earth in June 2010, but scientists said they could only get micrograms of dust from the asteroid due to a failure of the spacecraft’s sampling device.
“Ryugu is involved in a process that made our planet habitable,” Fujimoto said. “The earth was born dry; it didn’t start with water. We think that distant bodies like Ryugu got into the inner part of the solar system, hit the Earth, supplied water and made it habitable. That’s the basic question we follow, and we have it. samples are needed to resolve this. “
Because Hayabusa2 is not returning to Earth, it ejected a 35-pound sample return capsule as it traveled 136,701 miles on our planet. The spacecraft then changed course to go beyond Earth and move with the expanded mission.
JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who is currently at the International Space Station, tweeted about seeing the spacecraft.
“You just noticed # hayabusa2 from #ISS! Unfortunately it’s not bright enough for a handheld camera, but enjoyed watching the capsule! Thanks to Houston and Cucuba for the information !!!”
The images helped confirm the separation of the capsule from the spacecraft.
The Australian Government granted JAXA permission to deliver the capsule to the Voomera restricted area in southern Australia. These remote areas are used for testing by the Australian Department of Defense.
The Japanese space agency previously used the site for the 2010 Hayabusa paratrooper. JAXA appealed to the partnership with Australia, the large, flat and open nature of the land and the fact that the team could quickly move the model from Australia to Japan.
The large landing area extends 124 miles north to south and 62 miles east to west. The agency designated this large area to compensate for any uncertainty caused by local wind speeds when the capsule parachutes.
Once the capsule is in place, the helicopter will take a team of scientists to the landing site for them to collect. The capsule will be placed in a protective box and they will take it to the headquarters, the temporary facility they built.
This clean room will allow the team to test the capsule and allow degassing. It is possible that the capsule collected asteroid gases – which may be emitted by a sample of the collected spacecraft. Any detection of gas in the gas sample container is a good sign that they have successfully collected a sample of material from the asteroid.
As soon as the samples are returned to Japan and opened, the amount of material collected from the asteroid will be officially announced, Fujimoto said.
Between 2026 and 2031, Hayabusa2 will fly three asteroids, eventually reaching the rapidly rotating 1998 micro-steroid KY26 in July 2031, millions of miles from Earth. This will be the first asteroid flight of its kind.
What is in the Asteroid Sample?
Asteroids are like leftovers from the formation of our solar system, preserving information about the origins of the planets, as well as vital elements that allow life to exist on Earth.
Ryugu is like a diamond and has a diameter of just over half a mile.
“I predict that the specimens of the asteroid Ryugu Hayabusa2 will be very similar to a meteorite that fell in Australia near Murchison, Victoria, more than 50 years ago,” said Trevors, a professor at the Australian National University’s School of Earth Sciences. Hayabusa2 is a member of the science team in Voomera in his statement.
“The Murchison meteorite opened a window to the origin of organic matter on Earth, as these stones were found to contain simple amino acids as well as abundant water. We will explore whether Ryugu is a potential source of organic matter and water on Earth when the solar system and remains intact on the asteroid. “
Ryugu is also an asteroid close to Earth, which orbits it between Earth and Mars. In December 2076, it will have close access to the Earth. Understanding these potentially dangerous asteroids, space agencies could plan how to target them.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission recently collected a sample from another near-Earth asteroid, Bennu, which is similar in composition to Ryugu. In fact, based on early data from both missions, scientists working on both missions believe it’s possible that the two asteroids once belonged to the same larger parent body before it was split by the impact.
The Bennu sample will be returned to Earth by 2023.
Patrick Michel, Director of Research at the French National Research Center in Paris, is an investigator for both missions.
“It’s really important to understand that no two asteroids are the same,” Michel told CNN in October. “Even though Bennu and Ryugu have some intriguing similarities and they belong to the same category (primitive), they also have some very interesting differences. And these samples will employ generations of researchers, as a large amount will be saved for future generations to benefit from an increase in the technology and accuracy of the instruments used for analysis. “
This story was first published on CNN.com, “Mission Hayabusa2 launches the first sample of asteroids on Earth”.