TOKYO: Scientists in Japan said Tuesday they were “speechless” when they saw how much asteroid dust was in a capsule dropped by the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft on an unprecedented mission.
Last year, the Japanese probe collected surface dust and pristine material from the asteroid Ryugu, some 300 million kilometers away, in two daring phases of its six-year mission.
This month it dropped a capsule containing the samples, which created a ball of fire when it entered Earth’s atmosphere, and landed in the Australian desert before being shipped to Japan.
Scientists from the Japanese space agency JAXA removed the screws on the inner container of the capsule on Tuesday after they had already found a small amount of asteroid dust in the outer shell.
“When we actually opened it, I was speechless. It was more than we expected and there was so much that I was really impressed,” said JAXA scientist Hirotaka Sawada.
“They weren’t fine particles like powder, but there were many samples several millimeters in diameter.”
Scientists hope that the material will shed light on the formation of the universe and perhaps provide clues as to how life began on earth.
The scientists have not yet figured out whether the material inside is equal to or perhaps even larger than the 0.1 gram they were hoping to discover.
Seiichiro Watanabe, a Hayabusa project scientist and professor at Nagoya University, said he was excited nonetheless.
“There are many (of samples) and it seems that they contain a lot of organic material,” he said.
“I hope we can find out a lot of things about how organic matter evolved in Ryugu’s parent body.”
Half of the samples from Hayabusa-2 are shared between JAXA, the US space agency NASA, and other international organizations.
The rest will be kept for future study as advances in analytical technology are made.
Work on the probe, which is now launching an expanded mission for two new asteroids, is not yet complete.