A capsule of valuable rock fragments from the asteroid Ryugu landed on Saturday night near Vumera in South Australia. The fragments were collected by the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa-2, which landed on the asteroid in July 2019, after making contact with the celestial body the previous February. The capsule, which contained rock material from inside the asteroid, was then released from Hayabusa-2 when the probe returned to Earth: it entered the atmosphere, lying on the ground thanks to a parachute.
The capsule was restored after it started transmitting a signal with its location information. The recovery was carried out by a team commissioned by the Japan Space Agency (JAXA) in collaboration with the Australian Space Agency. Japan said the material in the capsule was in “perfect condition”. Rock fragments, scientists say, could provide new information about the origin of our solar system.
Capsule collection! The helicopter crew immediately took off at the location identified by the DFS team. They searched for the fallen capsule using radio waves and maps. Thank you a lot!
(Collection Team M)# Хајабуса2# Hayabusa 2#AsteroidStudentHayabusa2 # HAYA2 Report pic.twitter.com/KSyEbnU3Yd
– HAYABUSA2 @ JAXA (@ haya2e_jaxa) December 6, 2020
The capsule was then flown by helicopter to a facility in Australia, where the material would undergo preliminary testing from the inside before being shipped to Japan.
– Australian Space Agency (@AusSpaceAgence) December 6, 2020
The renewal of the capsule was possible thanks to the close cooperation between Japan and Australia. Megan Clark, who heads the Australian Space Agency, said: “Our work in support of JAXA will not be complete until we see the champion leave Australia safely and arrive in Japan.” Clark added: “Then the champion will start telling his story and discovering some wonderful things about how water got to Earth and how we could have formed.”
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Hayabusa-2 began its mission in 2014 after launching into the Tanegashima space center, an island in southern Japan. He then traveled billions of kilometers, using the orbits of several planets to get closer to Ryugu and pursue his interplanetary journey.
Ryugu is an asteroid with a maximum size of approximately 800 meters. It is type C (carbon), the most common variety among known asteroids, and is particularly dark, making it difficult to wake up from a distance. It was first observed in 1999.
Asteroids are what remains after the turbulent processes that led to the formation of our solar system. Researchers believe that they contain elements and molecules that may have activated the life-forming mechanisms of our planet: water, carbon compounds, and metals. According to their analysis, we can discover and understand many things about what happened billions of years ago, when our planet was still forming.
[PPTD] July 10 at 11:01 a.m. JST. We confirmed that the aircraft started landing from the home position (altitude of about 20 km). The spacecraft began landing at 10:46 a.m. (according to the weather) as scheduled. The descent speed is about 40cm / s.
– HAYABUSA2 @ JAXA (@ haya2e_jaxa) July 10, 2019
In early 2019, Hayabusa-2 used small explosive charges and a bullet to scratch Ryugu’s surface, creating a small crater. The operation, very delicate, was successful, and in July JAXA researchers briefly placed the Hayabusa-2 about 20 meters from the small crater it created, avoiding ending up in it to extract some fragments. Minutes later, Hayabusa-2 regained altitude, moving away from its asteroid again.
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Following the release of the capsule, the Hayabusa-2 investigation instead embarked on another mission: to travel to a smaller asteroid, which should reach it in 2031.