Earlier this month, the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) succeeded in bringing a sample of asteroid Ryugu back to Earth, in a remarkable feat which is only the second time an asteroid sample has even been collected. Now, JAXA has shared more details about the composition of the sample, including an image of it along with a mysterious silvery sliver.
JAXA announced that, following the return of the sample to Earth, it had been opened for processing on December 21. Of the three sample containers, A, B, and C, there are a variety of different sizes of rock from smaller dust particles up to rocks the size of 1cm across in sample container C. The contents of chambers A and C are shown in the two photos below:
In the photo of the sample from container C, which you can see on the right, there is a strange silver object labeled “人工物?”. JAXA experts believe this object may be a part of the sampling machinery that broke off during the sample collection. “We have not yet confirmed the origin of the artificial object (人工物),” the agency said on Twitter. “A projectile was used during the sample collection and it is possible that this is aluminum separated from the sampler horn at that time.”
In order to collect the sample, the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft lowered its orbit down until it was just short of the surface of the asteroid. Then it fired a “bullet” called the carry-on impactor (SCI) projectile which contained plastic explosives, and which blew a crater in the asteroid. This explosion sent up a spray of rocks and dust which could then be collected by the craft. It’s possible that during this maneuver, something detached from the craft and that is what the shiny silver object is.
The sample can now be analyzed to reveal more about how asteroids like Ryugu form and could even give clues to the history of our solar system. The Hayabusa 2 team members spoke of their excitement at getting their hands on the samples and their hopes for the new discoveries they could enable. “Hayabusa2 has completely stepped beyond the door of interplanetary round trip space flight,” said Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 Project Manager, JAXA.
“It was also the door of time to uncover the history of the solar system. I am proud of the project team members who have completed running through the space-time of 4.6 billion years and 5.2 billion kilometers together. And I would like to express my deepest gratitude to everyone who has always sent the energy of support to Hayabusa2.”
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