- The asteroid probe Hayabusa2, sent by the Japanese space agency JAXA, made two attempts to collect material from the surface of space rock Ryugu.
- As the now returned samples reveal, the first experiment collected fine particles and sand material, but the second experiment was much more impressive.
- JAXA describes the second sample as including rocks as large as almost half an inch, and they are very hard.
Japan’s Hayabusa2 asteroid probe mission took a long, long time. Flights to and from the asteroid Ryugu took many months, and the time the spacecraft spent in orbit around the asteroid was long in itself. The biggest risk for the spacecraft ̵
It completed that task just a few weeks ago, and Japan slowly began to reveal information about the samples collected by the probe. The first revelation was somewhat overwhelming, revealing some black, coal-like dust and small pebbles from the first sample collection attempt. Now, after JAXA showed off its second batch of asteroid material, we can say with certainty that the mission was an absolute success.
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As Komo News reports, the latest release of images of the asteroid samples gives us a much clearer picture of what Japanese scientists will be working on in the coming months and years. The second sample in particular looks quite promising, with larger pieces of rock that are apparently very hard, according to JAXA.
The differences in the sample material are attributed to the very different circumstances under which they were collected. The first sample was snapped when Hayabusa2 made a brief touch of the asteroid, so it was mostly dust and minor pebbles from the surface. For the second test, the JAXA team actually used Hayabusa2 to fire a projectile at the asteroid and blew a hole in the surface so that the material could be collected from the rock.
The fact that the second sample includes rocks that are both large and small suggests that the bedrock of the asteroid varies in hardness, according to JAXA’s space scientist Tomohiro Usui. The asteroid samples are being studied in a somewhat informal way at the moment, with observations noted, but the much more thorough studies of the material and what the rocks may contain will take place over many months and perhaps even years.
Meanwhile, the asteroid probe itself has not finished its work. After dropping the samples on Earth, the probe probes back into space. It is on its way to another asteroid that JAXA wants to study, but this one takes a little longer to reach. The journey to the asteroid will take 11 years, so we will not hear much about it for a while.