Science & Technology

Hayabusa2 capsule with asteroid samples retrieved from Australian desert

Tokyo, Dec 6 (efe-epa).- The capsule of a Japanese space probe containing the first ever sub-surface samples collected from an asteroid was retrieved Sunday from the Australian outback, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) confirmed.

The voyage took six years and covered 5 billion kilometers to collect the samples from the ancient Ryugu asteroid. It is hoped that the tiny samples, weighing less than 1 gram, will reveal details about the origin of the solar system and, beyond that, the origin of life.

The capsule had detached from the Hayabusa2 probe on Saturday, and at about 2.30 am Tokyo time (17:30 GMT) Sunday the re-entry capsule passed through the Earth’s atmosphere, visible as a fireball with a blazing trail of light.

Cheers erupted at JAXA in Sagamihara City near Tokyo, with Hayabusa2 project manager Yuichi Tsuda saying he had waited six years for this day.

“It was great … It was a beautiful fireball, and I was so impressed,” he said.

Assisted by a parachute that opened about 10 kilometers above the landing zone, the capsule dropped into the Woomera Prohibited Area – an Australian military and aerospace facility – in South Australia, about 500 kilometers north of Adelaide.

After landing, it was found by a search helicopter using a radio beacon signal.

“We found the capsule! Together with the parachute! Wow!” tweeted JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission.

The capsule was taken into base facilities and will be transported to Japan in the coming days.

“We practiced a lot for today and I am glad it ended safely (…) but the capsule is not collected until it is brought home to Japan! Thank you, everyone,” JAXA later tweeted.

After dropping the capsule to Earth, Hayabusa2 is now beginning an 11-year journey towards another asteroid named 1998KY26.

The probe, weighing about 600 kilograms, was launched on Dec. 3, 2014 and was in the vicinity of Ryugu for a year and a half. It first landed on its surface on Feb. 22, 2019, and again on July 11, 2019.

Although Ryugu is about 4.6 billion years old, it is believed to have gone through minimal changes since the formation of the solar system, so it could be an example of meteorites that may have impacted early Earth.

Ryugu – the name of a magical undersea palace in Japanese folklore – is about 900 meters in diameter and slightly cubic in shape, and considered among the oldest bodies in the solar system.

Scientists believe that Earth was too close to the sun when it was formed for water to condense, but once it cooled, both water and organic materials were brought to the planet by asteroids like Ryugu. EFE-EPA


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