Japanese spacecraft's gifts: Asteroid chips like charcoal
They resemble small fragments of charcoal, but the soil samples collected from an asteroid and returned to Earth by a Japanese spacecraft were hardly disappointing
TOKYO -- They resemble small fragments of charcoal, but the soil samples collected from an asteroid and returned to Earth by a Japanese spacecraft were hardly disappointing.
The samples Japanese space officials described Thursday are as big as 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) and rock hard, not breaking when picked up or poured into another container. Smaller black, sandy granules the spacecraft collected and returned separately were described last week.
The Hayabusa2 spacecraft got the two sets of samples last year from two locations on the asteroid Ryugu, more than 300 million kilometers (190 million miles) from Earth. It dropped them from space onto a target in the Australian Outback, and the samples were brought to Japan in early December.
The sandy granules the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency described last week were from the spacecraft's first touchdown in April 2019.
The larger fragments were from the compartment allocated for the second touchdown on Ryugu, said Tomohiro Usui, space materials scientist.
To get the second set of samples in July last year, Hayabusa2 dropped an impactor to blast below the asteroid's surface, collecting material from the crafter so it would be unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors.
Usui said the size differences suggest different hardness of the bedrock on the asteroid. “One possibility is that the place of the second touchdown was a hard bedrock and larger particles broke and entered the compartment."
JAXA is continuing the initial examination of the asteroid samples ahead of fuller studies next year. Scientists hope the samples will provide insight into the origins of the solar system and life on Earth. Following studies in Japan, some of the samples will be shared with NASA and other international space agencies for additional research.
Hayabusa2, meanwhile, is on an 11-year expedition to another small and distant asteroid, 1998KY26, to try to study possible defenses against meteorites that could fly toward Earth.
JAXA: Hayabusa2 capsule contains gravel
Japan's space agency says samples collected by its asteroid probe Hayabusa2 contain some pieces of gravel measuring nearly one centimeter..
Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, have been working to open the storage device of a capsule released by Hayabusa2.
The capsule, which contains samples from the remote asteroid Ryugu, landed in an Australian desert on December 6.
At an online news conference on Thursday, JAXA scientists said they established there were a number of samples containing pieces of gravel measuring nearly one centimeter in size.
The samples are believed to have been collected during the probe's second touchdown on Ryugu.
Earlier, the JAXA researchers said they found a number of sandy particles inside the storage device from the capsule. They said the particles, each measuring several millimeters in size, are believed to have been collected during the probe's first touchdown on the asteroid.
The researchers said samples from the second touchdown appear to be larger than those from the first, as the second one was designed to collect samples from the asteroid's interior.
They also said they believe what appear to be silver metallic pieces in the samples is likely to be aluminum used in the Hayabusa2 probe. They said they had expected the metal to be mixed into samples and it would not affect analyzing the samples.
JAXA plans to spend the next six months or so cataloging the samples before it launches a detailed analysis of them.
Usui Tomohiro, who heads one of JAXA's research groups, said that the amount collected is larger than expected, but work is proceeding smoothly.