A Japanese spacecraft has pruned a sample of dust from an asteroid humming through space more than 151 million miles from Earth. It is the second monster that has taken this vehicle from the asteroid and it is also the last to collect the probe before returning to Earth this fall.
The spacecraft for collecting samples is Hayabusa2, which is managed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The vehicle was launched in 2014 and hovered around an asteroid named Ryugu since it arrived at the object in June 2018. The main goal is to remove small pieces of rocks and dirt from Ryugu to return to our planet, where scientists can study these pieces in labs. Hayabusa2 could easily have been done when it picked up its first monster in February, but the team behind the spacecraft decided to collect another monster before returning home. And this sample is much more tempting than the first.
This specimen was caught next to a crater that Hayabusa2 made on Ryugu. That's right: the spacecraft destroyed its own little hole in the asteroid in April. During that event, Hayabusa2 used what was essentially a small bomb over the surface of Ryugu, where it burst and created a small impression in the rock. Then on Wednesday evening the spacecraft collected a monster of rocks about 20 meters from where that artificial crater was located.
To capture the monster, Hayabusa2 is equipped with a bullet-like projectile attached to a horn-shaped appendix. When the spacecraft comes close to the surface of the asteroid, it taps the end of the horn and shoots the bullet out. The whole thing shakes up a cloud of dust that is supposed to go into the horn and then into a collection room in the belly of Hayabusa2.
Scientists are pretty sure that this sample contains material from Ryugu that was blasted out when the bomb went off. That means that part of the dust within the newest monster has been buried beneath the surface of the asteroid for billions of years since the beginning of the solar system. Such materials are expensive for researchers because these rocks have not been exposed to the harsh space environment and have not been able to process space weather phenomena. These relatively pristine conditions mean that the latest monster from Hayabusa2 can be a nice snapshot of some of the materials that were around when our cosmic neighborhood first formed.
That is a big problem for planetary scientists, because many experts believe that some of the basic building blocks of life on Earth come from asteroids that bomb our planet. The samples from Hayabusa2 may contain important clues about what asteroids may have transported to Earth when it was still a newborn world.
Hayabusa2 probably has materials from two samples in his collection room, although researchers don't know for sure until the spacecraft returns. Because there is no way to measure what is in the room while it is in the room, it is possible that there is nothing in it right now. However, Japanese researchers are confident that Hayabusa2 has received material for both samples. Whatever it did, it will be small. JAXA hopes to get about 100 milligrams of the Ryugu sample.
Now the time of Hayabusa2 on the asteroid is almost over. The vehicle is scheduled to begin its journey home in November or December with the goal of reaching the Earth by the end of 2020. When the spacecraft returns to Earth, it will insert a capsule of monsters in the direction of the Earth, which will invade the atmosphere of the planet. and parachute to the ground below, touch somewhere in the Australian desert.