The best gift of this holiday comes in a small package, which landed in the Australian desert from a distance in our solar system on December 5, 2020.
Inside, astronomers are happy to uncover the first important samples of rocky asteroids, which are currently 9 million kilometers (5.6 million miles) away and return to Earth in a “perfect” shape.
The photo of the original pebbles was finally released. Although the tiny black particles inside may be nothing more than dirty coal, this galactic gift is no accusation. This is the culmination of a five-year journey that requires careful planning and execution.
The samples were originally collected by the Hayabusa2 mission in Japan, which was sent to circle and sample the diamond-shaped asteroid named Ryugu after the first mission was successful.
The asteroid Ryugu sample in the reentry capsule weighs about 5.4g! This greatly exceeds the target output of 0.1g (the amount required for the initial scientific analysis) set during Hayabusa2’s design.
— HAYABUSA2 @ JAXA (@haya2e_jaxa) December 18, 2020
The original Haytori spacecraft returned from the asteroid Itogawa in 2010 and directly sampled near-Earth objects for the first time. In general, the weight of surface material is less than one milligram, but this is still enough to provide important information about the age and geological history of the asteroid.
The new sample from Ryugu-collected last year-can be traced farther back and contains more material than astronomers had hoped, about 5.4 grams.
The name Ryugu refers to a magical underwater “Dragon Palace” in Japanese folklore, in which a fisherman finds that beside him is a mysterious box that can be taken home-like a sealed capsule of a Hay bird.
The treasure in this case is believed to be more than 4.5 billion years old-it is a relic of our early solar system, containing potentially ancient material that once made up our sun and its orbiting planets.
Astronomers opened the carefully sealed chamber and found many particles larger than a millimeter. Those in Room C are slightly larger than the rest, and are collected from the second touchdown of the mission.
Since the landing occurred in the northern part of a crater deliberately made at the beginning of the mission, the researchers hope that the sample contains a large amount of underground material. That would be a considerable achievement, because all other asteroid samples collected in space come only from the surface.
Before obtaining these direct samples, most of our knowledge of asteroids came from meteorites, which are asteroids or comets that find themselves crashing into the surface of the earth.
Unfortunately, without the protection of artificial capsules, many substances will be destroyed or contaminated by our atmosphere when they enter the earth, not to mention all the weathering that occurs once these rocks fall on the ground.
Ryugu is a C-type asteroid, which means that its rocks have high porosity and contain a lot of carbon and water. Astronomers suspect that this particular pile of dark rubble was formed billions of years ago, when it broke on another large rock somewhere in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Because the surface of Ryugu is unusually dry and red, some experts believe that it once flew close to the sun.
Nevertheless, not all the materials collected in these containers are very primitive. One of the capsules does contain an obvious anachronism (as shown in the picture below).
The press release of the Hayabusa2 project said: “Man-made materials appear to exist in Room C.”
“The origin is under investigation, but the possible source is the aluminum scraped from the flares of the aluminum spacecraft sampler because projectiles were fired to stir the material during the landing.”
Later, Twitter made an update, stating that the object has not been confirmed, but may have been separated from the sampler speaker used in the collection process.
The finishing work of Ryugu samples is steadily proceeding. On December 21st, sample collection chambers B and C were opened, and then the contents of chambers A and C were moved to the collection container in the photo. The largest particle in chamber C is about 1 cm! pic.twitter.com/yWO15cKhG9
— HAYABUSA2 @ JAXA (@haya2e_jaxa) December 24, 2020
Scientists have begun to analyze these new samples, including some of the gas trapped in the capsule, which is believed to have also been collected on the surface of Ryugu.
If the researchers are correct, it will be the world’s first gas sample returned from deep space.
It is indeed now.