For the second time, humanity has brought samples of asteroids to Earth.
Small capsule with indecent pieces of near Earth asteroid Ryugu reached early this afternoon (December 5) in the remote and solidly restricted Wumera area, about 100 miles (500 km) northwest of the South Australian capital, Adelaide.
The specimens were circled millions of miles from Earth by the Japanese Mission Hayabusa2, who studied Ryugu 3,000 meters (900 meters) wide up close from June 2018 to November 2019.
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Hayabusa2’s predecessor was the first to bring space rock samples home, delivering pieces of the Itokawa rock asteroid in 2010. But the original Hayabusa (Japanese for “peregrine falcon”) returned less than 1 milligram of material. Hayabusa2 sales are expected to exceed 100 mg (0.0035 ounces), and its specimens come from a very different type of asteroid – a primitive “C” space rock rich in water and carbon-containing organic compounds.
“The materials that formed the Earth, its oceans, and life were present in the primordial cloud that formed our solar system. In the early solar system, these materials were in contact and were able to communicate chemically within the same parent objects,” Japan Aerospace Representatives of the Research Agency (JAXA) wrote in overview of Hayabusa2.
“These interactions persist today in primitive bodies (type C asteroids), so returning specimens from these bodies for analysis will clarify the origin and evolution of the solar system and the building blocks of life,” they added.
Having specimens here on Earth is crucial; Scientists in well-equipped laboratories around the world can look at the cosmic rock in much greater detail than Hayabusa2, or any other probe in deep space itself, could. The cleanliness of the returned material is also a big selling point. Researchers already have access to many meteorites, but these “free specimens” from asteroids are significantly altered by their travel through the Earth’s atmosphere and their time on the surface of our planet.
1,340-kg. (690 kg) The Hayabusa 2 spacecraft was launched in December 2014 and was scheduled for a rendezvous with the rugged Ryugu on June 27, 2018, launching an epic exploration campaign.
Hayabusa2 woke Ryugu in detail and also deployed several mini-tropes on the asteroid’s surface small rovers with jumps and a microwave-sized lander called the MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Scout), which secured German airspace in collaboration with the French space agency CNES.
The main Hayabusa2 spacecraft made two trips to the surface of Ryugu, both of which received samples. During the first of these operations, in February 2019, Hayabusa2 collected some surface material. In April of the same year, the spacecraft fired 5.5 kg. (2.5 kg) copper projectile at Ryugu, blasting a crater 10 meters wide (10 meters) in the surface of the asteroid. Then, that July, the probe landed and collected some of this recently excavated dirt and rock.
Hayabusa2 kept these two specimens separately so that scientists could compare material from two very different environments – Ryugu’s surface, which is supported by space radiation, and the asteroid’s deeper depths.
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With these samples secured, Hayabusa2 left Ryugu in November 2019 and headed home. On November 26 this year, when Hayabusa 2 was about 2.2 million miles (3.6 million kilometers) away from Earth, the probe fired its engines into a key burn to refine its trajectory. This maneuver set Hayabusa 2 on a 10-mile (10 km) wide sky over Wumera – the precise equivalent of targeting a ladybug 1 km away, JAKSA officials said. wrote in the post-burnout update.
Hayabusa2 released the return capsule 16 inches (40 cm) wide on Friday night (December 4), at a distance of about 220,000 km from our planet, JAXA officials said. The main spacecraft then burned another engine to move away from Earth because its work was not done: JAXA recently approved extended mission to Hayabusa2, which will fly past the small asteroid (98943) 2001 CC21 in 2026 and meet on another space rock, 1998 KY26, in 2031.
But the return capsule, which does not have its own propulsion system, continued to sew to Earth. It hit the atmosphere at 12:28 pm EST (1728 GMT), with an expected speed of approximately 26,840 km / h (43,190 km / h). The small craft deployed its parachute a few minutes later, when it was about 10 miles above the ground, and reached 12:47 pm (1747 GMT; 2:47 pm JST and 4:17 pm local Australian) time. on December 6), said JAKSA officials.
Recovery crews soon flew by helicopter to search for the capsule. After collecting and reviewing the craft, Hayabusa2 team members will transfer it to the JAXA Alien Curation Center in Japan. Completed in 2008, the facility was designed specifically to house and study space material brought home from space missions.
Some of Ryugu’s material will then be passed on to laboratories around the world, where scientists will study it for clues to the early days of the solar system and the growth of life on Earth.
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Several other spacecraft will soon follow the lead of Hayabusa2, bringing their paradise parts to Earth.
China Change 5 lunar lander, for example, this week removed clean material from the surface of the moon. This specimen is scheduled to land in Inner Mongolia on December 16 or December 17. And in October this year, the NASA OSIRIS-REX spacecraft stuck a large sample on another carbon-rich asteroid near Earth, Bennu, 500 meters (500 meters) wide. The OSIRIS-Rex return capsule will land in Utah in September 2023, if all goes according to plan.
The goals of Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx are very similar, and both mission teams were working extensively together over the past few years to help achieve them. That collaboration will expand to sharing touchdown samples, members of both teams said.
In addition, the first phase of a complex, long-term campaign to sample Mars on Earth began last July with the launch of NASA Rover Mars 2020 Perseverance, which will land on the Red Planet in February 2021. Among the many tasks of the life hunter, the rover is collecting and storing dozens of specimens, which NASA and the European Space Agency will work together to bring home, potentially as early as 2031.
JAXA is working on a project to return a sample of Mars – a mission called Mars Moon Exploration (MMX), which is planned to start in 2024. MMX will grab samples of Phobos, one of the two small moons on the Red Planet, and bring them to Earth for analysis.
Mike Wall is the author of “There“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.