The gifts of the Japanese spaceship: the asteroid splinters like coal

Soil samples inside the C compartment of the capsule reported by Hayabusa2, in Sagamihara, near Tokyo. / AP

Soil samples inside the C compartment of the capsule reported by Hayabusa2, in Sagamihara, near Tokyo. / AP

They look like small fragments of coal, but soil samples collected from an asteroid and brought back to Earth by a Japanese spacecraft were not disappointing.

The samples that Japanese space officials described Thursday are as large as 1 centimeter and hard as a rock, they do not break when collected or poured into another container. The smallest black and sandy grains collected by the probe and returned separately were described last week.

The Hayabusa2 probe obtained the two sets of samples last year from two locations on the Ryugu asteroid, more than 300 million kilometers from Earth. He dropped them from space on a target in the Australian outback, and the samples were brought to Japan in early December.

The sand grains described last week by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) came from the spacecraft’s first touchdown in April 2019.

The largest fragments came from the compartment assigned for the second touchdown on Ryugu, said Tomohiro Usui, a space materials scientist.

To obtain the second set of samples in July last year, Hayabusa2 detonated a simulation device beneath the asteroid’s surface, collecting material from the craftsman so that it was not affected by space radiation and other environmental factors.

Soil samples inside compartment A of the capsule reported by Hayabusa2, in Sagamihara, near Tokyo. / AP

Soil samples inside compartment A of the capsule reported by Hayabusa2, in Sagamihara, near Tokyo. / AP

Usui said the size differences suggest a different hardness of the bedrock on the asteroid. “One possibility is that the second touchdown spot was a hard rock and larger particles broke off and entered the compartment.”

JAXA is continuing its initial examination of the asteroid samples for more comprehensive studies next year. Scientists hope the samples will provide insight into the origins of the solar system and life on Earth. Following the studies in Japan, some of the samples will be shared with NASA and other international space agencies for further 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 to Earth.

Source (s): AP

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