Hayabusa2 Scientists Open up Returned Space Capsule

It must be an incredibly special moment for scientists when they first open a capsule that has just returned from an ambitious space sampling mission. As long as it’s not empty.

We’re excited to announce that the re-entry capsule recently returned to Earth from Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft actually contained a number of goodies collected from the Ryugu asteroid last year as it passed through hundreds of millions of miles from Earth racing into space.

Confirmation came this week after scientists at a laboratory near Tokyo unsealed the capsule a little over a week after Hayabusa2 deposited the precious cargo in the Australian outback.

“It has been confirmed that there are a large number of particles in ‘Sample Chamber A’ in the collected capsule,” said JAXA, Japan’s space agency, in a tweet, adding that although the small particles shown in the attached photo look brown but browns do indeed look black.

It has been confirmed that there are a large number of particles in “sample chamber A” within the collected capsule (~ 11:10 JST on December 15th). This is believed to be the example from the first touchdown on Ryugu. The photo looks brown, but our team says “black”! The sample return is a great success! pic.twitter.com/34vIx17zOX

– HAYABUSA2 @ JAXA (@ haya2e_jaxa), December 15, 2020

The agency also said it succeeded in extracting a sample of gas taken from the Ryugu asteroid from the capsule, describing it as “the world’s first sample return of a gaseous material from space”. The scientists will now conduct a detailed analysis of the molecular and isotopic composition of the gas.

It is to be hoped that the material collected – both gas and particles – will, among other things, give researchers new insights into the origins and development of the solar system.

The Hayabusa2 mission

JAXA’s challenging mission started six years ago this month from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft reached the Ryugu asteroid in June 2018 after a three-and-a-half year journey of around 180 million miles.

In February 2019, Hayabusa2 made the first of two landings on the 900 meter wide asteroid and collected a sample of granules from its surface. Preparations for the more difficult process of collecting the very first sample beneath the surface of an asteroid began in April 2019 when Hayabusa2 fired a two-kilogram “ball” in Ryugu to loosen rock particles. A few months later, the spacecraft landed a second time to collect the material before it was transferred to the capsule before the crucial return trip to Earth that ended earlier this month.

“The sample return mission is perfectly completed,” said JAXA’s Hayabusa2 project manager Yuichi Tsuda this week. Science and space fans hoped the asteroid material could reveal some secrets related to the formation of our solar system.

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