Dust samples collected by a Japanese spacecraft from an asteroid about 300 million km from Earth were better than hoped. One researcher said he was speechless when they first opened the capsule.
The samples, the culmination of a six-year space odyssey to the Ryugu asteroid by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft, arrived in Japan last week, but the researchers didn’t know for sure until this week if they had actually received anything.
“We were aiming for 100 mg or more, and we definitely achieved that,” said Hirotaka Sawada of the Japan Space Exploration Agency (JAXA), who said he was speechless when he first saw the sample.
“I think I probably yelled next, I don’t really remember,” he told a press conference. “It was really different from what I expected, there was a lot.”
Asteroids are believed to have formed early in the solar system, and scientists have said the sample could contain organic matter that may have contributed to life on Earth.
The Hayabusa2 – named after the peregrine falcon – circled over Ryugu a few months before landing, then blasted a crater with small explosives and collected the debris. After setting the capsule down, it changed course and headed back into space.
This capsule fell to earth on December 6th in the Australian outback and was flown to Japan. The final leg of his journey was by truck to a JAXA research center outside Tokyo, where it was greeted by a crowd of enthusiastic researchers.
Next, the samples are taken and prepared, including weighing to see how much has been received. This process will take some time before research can begin.
“We are absolutely thrilled,” said Sei-ichiro Watanabe, a Nagoya University professor who leads the research team.
“There are so many things we should learn from it.”