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A Japanese spacecraft grabs a second sample of asteroids near a sandy crater

A Japanese spacecraft has grabbed a dust sample of an asteroid zooming to more than 151 million km from the Earth. This is the second sample this vehicle has recovered from the asteroid, and it is also the last sample that the probe will collect before returning to Earth this fall.

Hayabusa2 is the sample collection spacecraft operated by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Launched in 2014, the vehicle was flying around an asteroid named Ryugu since it arrived at the object in June 2018. Its main purpose is to recover small pieces of rocks and earth in Ryugu to bring them back to our planet, where scientists can study them. laboratories. Hayabusa2 could have been easily realized when entering his first sample in February, but the team at the origin of the probe decided to take another sample before returning home. And this sample is much more tempting than the first one.

This sample was seized right next to a crater that Hayabusa2 did on Ryugu. That's right: the probe blew up its own small hole in the asteroid in April. During this event, Hayabusa2 deployed what was essentially a small bomb on the surface of Ryugu where it burst and created a small impression in the rock. On Wednesday evening, the spacecraft took a sample of rocks about twenty meters from the place where this artificial crater is located.

To catch his sample, Hayabusa2 is equipped with a bullet-shaped projectile attached to a horn-shaped appendage. When the spacecraft gets closer to the surface of the asteroid, it hits the end of the horn on the ground and the bullet fires. The whole raises a cloud of dust supposed to rise in the horn, then in a collection chamber in the belly of Hayabusa2.

The Hayabusa2 sampling device, visible a few seconds after touchdown.
Image: JAXA

Scientists are pretty sure that this sample contains material from Ryugu that was projected outside when the bomb exploded. This means that some of the dust contained in the last sample could have been buried under the surface of the asteroid for billions of years since the beginnings of the solar system. These materials are valuable to researchers as these rocks have not been exposed to the harsh space environment or the weather. These relatively immaculate conditions mean that the last sample of Hayabusa2 can provide a good snapshot of some of the materials that existed when our cosmic quarter first formed.

This is a big problem for planetary scientists, because many experts believe that some of the fundamental elements of life on Earth come from asteroids that bomb our planet. The Hayabusa2 samples could contain important clues as to what the asteroids would have transported to Earth while the world was still newborn.

The artificial crater site where Hayabusa2 took a sample nearby.
Image: JAXA

Hayabusa2 probably contains samples from two samples in its collection chamber, although researchers do not know it before returning the probe. Since there is no way to measure what is inside the room while it is in space, it is possible that there is nothing for the moment. However, Japanese researchers are confident that Hayabusa2 has obtained information on both samples. Whatever it is, the hitch will be small, however. The JAXA hopes to get about 100 milligrams of Ryugu's sample.

The time spent by Hayabusa2 on the asteroid is coming to an end. The vehicle must begin its return journey in November or December with the goal of reaching the Earth by the end of 2020. When it returns to Earth, the spacecraft will deploy a capsule filled from samples to Earth, which will return to the planet's atmosphere and parachute to the ground below, landing somewhere in the Australian desert.

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