- Paul Rincon
- Science Editor for BBC News
An Australian team has located and retrieved a space capsule containing asteroid specimens.
And they are estimated to be the first significant amounts of aerolite that could shed new light on the history of the solar system.
The capsule, which contains material from a space rock called Ryugu, was parachuted near Wumera, a desert in southern Australia.
The samples were collected from a Japanese spacecraft called Hayabusa-2, which spent more than a year researching the asteroid.
The capsule – or container – detached from Hayabusa-2 before entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
The official Twitter account of Hayabusa-2 announced that the container and its parachute were found at 19:47 this Saturday (Greenwich).
Earlier, cameras recorded images of the capsule descending “like a blinding fireball” over the Australian city of Kuber Paddy.
The container deployed its parachute to slow down the descent.
Upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the capsule began transmitting information about it position.
The spacecraft finally landed in Wumera, an area controlled by the Royal Australian Air Force.
When the recovery team identified where the capsule had fallen, around 6:07 p.m. GMT, a helicopter equipped with an antenna was deployed to locate the container.
He is now under “quick review” protocol before being transferred to Japan.
Then the capsule, which has a weight of 16 kilograms, will be transferred to the storage chamber at the Japan Space Research Agency (JAXA) in the city of Sagamihara for analysis and storage.
The Japanese mission tried to collect a sample of more than 100 milligrams of the asteroid Ryugu.
Professor Alan Fitsimons, of the University of Queens in Belfast (Northern Ireland), explained that the sample was capable of revealing a great deal of data “not only on the history of the solar system but also on these special objects”.
Asteroids are essentially buildings left over from the formation of Solar system.
They are made of the same material as the planets of the earth.
“Having specimens of an asteroid like Ryugu would be really exciting for our field. We think Ryugu is made up of super-ancient rocks that will tell us how the solar system formed,” said Professor Sarah Russell, a researcher in the Planetary Materials Group. at the Natural History Museum in London, next to the BBC.
Studying specimens taken from Ryugu can tell us how water and living ingredients reached the early Earth.
Comets have long been thought to be transporters of much of the water Earth in the early days of the solar system.
Instead, Professor Fitzsimons points out that the chemical profile of water in comets was different from the water profile of our planet’s oceans.
However, the composition of water in some asteroids in the outer solar system is more similar.
“Maybe in the comets we were looking for the origin of the Earth’s water during the early solar system. Maybe we should have looked a little closer to home, in these primitive but rather rocky asteroids,” the expert told the BBC.
“In fact, it is something that will be analyzed very carefully in these samples of Ryugu,” he concludes.
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