Asteroid samples leave Japanese scientists ‘speechless’

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Tokyo (AFP)

Japanese scientists said Tuesday they were “speechless” when they saw the amount of asteroid dust inside a capsule delivered by the Hayabusa-2 space probe during a mission unprecedented.

The Japanese probe last year collected surface dust and intact material from asteroid Ryugu, some 300 million kilometers (200 million miles) away, in two daring phases of its six-year mission.

This month, he deposited a capsule containing the samples, which created a fireball on entering Earth’s atmosphere, and landed in the Australian desert before being transported to Japan.

Scientists at Japan’s JAXA space agency on Tuesday removed the screws from the capsule’s inner container, after already finding a small amount of asteroid dust in the outer shell.

“When we opened it, I was speechless. It was more than we expected and there was so much going on that I was really impressed, ”said Hirotaka Sawada, JAXA scientist.

“It wasn’t fine particles like powder, but there were a lot of samples that were several millimeters in diameter. ”

Scientists hope the material will shed light on the formation of the universe and perhaps offer clues as to how life began on Earth.

Scientists have yet to reveal whether the material inside is equal to, or possibly more than, the 0.1 grams they had said they hoped to find.

Seiichiro Watanabe, a scientist from the Hayabusa Project and professor at Nagoya University, said he was elated nonetheless.

“There are a lot (of samples) and it looks like they have a lot of organic matter,” he says.

“So I hope we can find out a lot about how organics developed on Ryugu’s parent body. ”

Half of the Hayabusa-2 samples will be shared between JAXA, the US space agency NASA and other international organizations.

The rest will be kept for future study as analytical technology advances.

But the work is not done for the probe, which will now begin an extended mission targeting two new asteroids.

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