Skip to main content

Asteroid sample returned to Earth from Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft

A capsule containing a sample from a distant asteroid has been successfully returned to Earth and will soon be available for study, thanks to a Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) mission called Hayabusa2.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft visited asteroid Ryugu and collected a sample before bringing it back to Earth as part of a mission that has lasted six years so far. The sample was placed in a capsule and sent down to Earth, and the spacecraft will now carry on its mission by visiting another asteroid.

Related Videos

As the capsule entered the atmosphere, it could be seen streaking across the sky in a fireball which was visible in many parts of the world. It was even visible from the International Space Station, where JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi spotted it pass him by.

The sample capsule reentered Earth’s atmosphere and landed in the Australian desert on the morning of Sunday, December 6, local time, and it was retrieved in a picture-perfect mission.

The planned landing area for the capsule was very large, covering over 100 square kilometers, due to variations in weather such as wind speed. Given how far away Hayabusa2 was when it released the capsule, hitting this target was “the equivalent of throwing a ball from more than half the distance to the Moon to a 100 [square kilometer] spot in Australia,” JAXA said.

To aid in finding the capsule, a series of five antenna stations positioned around the area searched for a signal from the capsule and triangulated its location. The triangulation allowed the search area to be narrowed down to a few square kilometers, and then a helicopter performed the search and located the capsule itself.

Capsule collection! The helicopter team immediately flew to the location identified by the DFS team. They searched for the fallen capsule by using radio waves and maps. Thank you very much!
(Collection Team M)#Hayabusa2#はやぶさ2#AsteroidExplorerHayabusa2 #HAYA2Report

— HAYABUSA2@JAXA (@haya2e_jaxa) December 6, 2020

At 2:47 p.m. ET, the capsule collection team located the capsule. They also found the parachute which was used to slow the capsule as it descended, as well as the rear heat shield. The capsule was collected in a helicopter and has been taken for analysis.

Samples are on their way for analysis at the Woomera Test Range. @haya2e_jaxa @AusAirForce @DeptDefence #Hayabusa2

— Australian Space Agency (@AusSpaceAgency) December 6, 2020

The sample contained within the capsule is a very rare piece of a distant asteroid. Studying it can help scientists answer questions about the formation of the early solar system, and researchers are particularly interested in whether there are any traces of water-bearing minerals in the sample.

Editors' Recommendations

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft swings by Earth on its way to Trojan asteroids
see lucy spacecraft slingshot past earth fly by

NASA's Lucy spacecraft is on its way to the Trojan asteroids to learn about the formation of the solar system, but it isn't traveling in a straight line from Earth to the orbit of Jupiter. Instead, it is performing a series of slingshot maneuvers to help it on its journey, including a recent maneuver around Earth. This weekend, a few lucky observers were able to see Lucy as it performed an Earth flyby before heading back out into space.

Read more
NASA successfully crashes spacecraft into asteroid in planet defense test
Illustration of NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s (ASI) LICIACube prior to impact at the Didymos binary system.

NASA has successfully crashed a spacecraft into an asteroid in the first-ever planetary defense mission aimed at changing the direction of a celestial body.

Exactly as planned, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft slammed into the harmless 530-feet-wide Dimorphos asteroid as part of a bold test mission deploying technology that could one day be used to tackle a hazardous object heading for Earth.

Read more
How to watch NASA slam a spacecraft into an asteroid
Illustration of NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s (ASI) LICIACube prior to impact at the Didymos binary system.

UPDATE: NASA succeeded in crashing its spacecraft into the asteroid. This video shows the final moments before impact.

NASA is about to deliberately crash a spacecraft into a distant asteroid in a first-of-its-kind planetary defense test.

Read more