Watch Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission deliver the first underground asteroid samples to Earth

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A Japanese spaceship is back on Earth on Saturday with a very special delivery: a capsule containing the very first rock samples below the surface of an asteroid. When it collapses to Earth, the capsule will provide a breathtaking spectacle above the Australian outback, crossing the sky like a dazzling fireball.

Project manager Yuichi Tsuda called the mission “a rare event in human history.” This marks just the second time that pristine, undamaged material directly from an asteroid has been brought back to Earth.

JAXA, Japan’s national aerospace and space agency, broadcasts the event live at 11:30 a.m.ET on Twitter and YouTube. Watch it here:


Mission Control Live: Hayabusa2 capsule reentry operation through
jaxasgm on Youtube

Japanese Hayabusa2 probe, which is about the size of a refrigerator, launched in December 2014, enthralling scientists when it landed on the diamond-shaped asteroid Ryugu, which means “dragon’s palace” in Japanese, located at 185 million of kilometers.

After six years in space, he returns to Earth briefly before embarking on his next mission.

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This infographic image released by JAXA shows the Hayabusa2 spacecraft above the asteroid Ryugu.

ISAS / JAXA via AP, file


Scientists expect the probe to bring home a small amount of asteroid material, collected last year, with the aim of learning more about the origins of the solar system and life on Earth. Scientists believe that the rocks that make up the asteroid are around four billion years old.

The samples could shed light on “how matter is scattered around the solar system, why it exists on the asteroid, and how it relates to Earth,” Tsuda told reporters, according to a press release on Friday.

The samples were collected during two separate landings on Ryugu last year. During the first one, the probe collected dust and dug a hole in the asteroid’s surface to find additional material below. Several months later, the probe returned to the crater it had created to collect more samples.

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This November 13, 2019 image released by JAXA shows the asteroid Ryugu captured by the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2.

JAXA via AP


“We may be able to obtain substances that will give us clues as to the birth of a planet and the origin of life … I am very interested to see these substances,” mission director Makoto Yoshikawa told reporters. .

The material is stored in a 15-inch-wide capsule that successfully separated from the probe about 136,701 miles above Earth on Saturday morning before its planned descent into the Australian outback, near Woomera, South Australia. A parachute will open about six miles above the ground and signals will alert space agency officials of its location.

But the rescue mission could prove to be a challenge.

According to the Associated Press, JAXA officials have installed satellite dishes, marine radars, drones and helicopters to help with the treasure hunt.

A fireball will fly across the sky on re-entry, visible early Sunday morning in Australia, hopefully pointing scientists in the direction of the capsule.

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In this photo provided by JAXA, its crew members set up an antenna for the capsule collection in Woomera, South Australia in November 2020.

JAXA via AP


Once officials find and collect the capsule, the samples will be processed and airlifted to Japan, then distributed among researchers at JAXA, NASA and other international organizations.

Some samples will be set aside for future studies when the technology advances further.

JAXA plans to expand the Hayabusa2 mission for more than a decade, with its sights set on two new asteroids, 2001 CC21 and 1998 KY26.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission recently collected a sample of another asteroid close to Earth – Bennu, which is similar to Ryugu. The sample will return to Earth in 2023.

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