They are similar to small pieces of charcoal, but soil samples collected from asteroids and returned to Earth via Japanese space probes will hardly disappoint.
The sample described by the Japanese astronauts on Thursday was as large as one centimeter, hard, and would not break when picked up or poured into another container. Last week described the smaller black, sandy particles collected and returned by the spacecraft.
Last year, the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft obtained two sets of samples from two locations on the asteroid Ryugu, which is more than 300 million kilometers (190 million miles) away from Earth. It landed them from space to a target inland Australia and brought the samples to Japan in early December.
The sand particles described by the Japan Aeronautics and Space Administration last week came from the spacecraft’s first touchdown in April 201
Space materials scientist Tomohiro Usui said that the larger fragments came from the carriage for Ryugu’s second landing.
In order to obtain the second set of samples in July last year, Hayabusa2 threw the impactor below the surface of the asteroid and collected materials from the spacecraft, so it was not affected by space radiation and other environmental factors.
Usui said that the difference in size indicates the hardness of the asteroid bedrock. “One possibility is that the second landing was in hard bedrock, and the larger particles broke and entered the carriage.”
JAXA is continuing its initial inspection of asteroid samples before conducting more comprehensive studies next year. Scientists hope that these samples will provide insights into the origin of the solar system and life on Earth. After conducting research in Japan, some of these samples will be shared with NASA and other international space agencies for further research.
At the same time, Hayabusa2 is conducting an 11-year survey of another distant asteroid 1998KY26 to study possible defense measures against meteorites that may fly to the earth.
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