The capsule collected an asteroid sample the size of dust and pebbles. It also contained fine, black grain outside the chambers. (Image Credit: JAXA)


JAXA revealed that the recently-returned Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully collected about 5.4 grams of material from the asteroid Ryugu, exceeding its 0.1-gram target. In addition to the soil, the space agency discovered a gas sample inside the collector that “differed from the atmospheric composition of the Earth.” The soil samples were found in three chambers of a storage container inside the capsule that returned to Earth. JAXA also said it discovered more material just outside the chambers.


Calculations were performed by comparing the container’s weight before and after Hayabusa2 launched in December 2014. The probe reached the asteroid in June 2018, spending 16 months there. In 2019, it landed on the surface twice to collect rocks and dust, which were stored in a tamatebako sample capsule.


The capsule, 40 centimeters in diameter, was dropped by Hayabusa2 from space to Australia on December 6th. After it landed, JAXA scientists sent it to a pop-up lab called the “Quick Look Facility” (QLF), analyzed the sample, and confirmed it captured gases. However, the team wasn’t certain if the gas sample came from Ryugu or Earth. On December 15th, JAXA confirmed that the gas was from Ryugu, making it the first time that a gas sample has been obtained from deep space. Ryuji Okazaki, a scientist at Kyushu University, said that the gases could be related to minerals in the asteroid soil. He also hopes to identify what type of gas it is while determining its age.


The sample capsule contains three chambers, labeled A, B, and C, that stored the material. Chamber A contains the gas samples and black particles, which were obtained from the first touchdown. Chamber C is expected to contain material from the second landing. (Image Credit: JAXA)


JAXA  showed that Hayabusa2 captured material from Ryugu’s surface. The sample capsule has three chambers, labeled A, B, and C, that stored the material. On December 14th, the agency opened the container and discovered fine, black grain attached on the outside of the main chambers. Then, JAXA opened chamber A on December 15th and revealed that it found gas samples and black particles inside, which it believes were collected from Hayabusa2’s first landing in February 2019. Chamber C is expected to contain material from the second touchdown. The first landing gathered samples from the asteroid’s surface and the second from underground.


The first person to look inside the capsule’s sample catcher was Hirotaka Sawada, a JAXA scientist. He said he was almost speechless when he discovered that some of the samples were the size of dust and pebbles.


Studying the sample collected from Ryugu could provide scientists with insight into how the solar system and life on Earth formed.


The next step for JAXA is to study the samples using microscopes and infrared spectra analysis. By early 2021, scientists should have more information about the composition. JAXA plans on looking into chambers B and C next while continuing an examination ahead of the later studies of the material. Afterward, JAXA is sharing the samples with NASA and other international space agencies starting in 2022.


Now, Hayabusa2 is on an 11-year journey to another asteroid to study how to defend the Earth against meteorites that could fly toward the planet.


China’s Chang’e-5 mission returned to Earth on December 16th, carrying 2kg of moon sample with it. (Image Credit: CNSA)


On December 16th, China’s Chang’e-5 probe returned to Earth carrying 2 kilograms of lunar samples. These could provide scientists with new insights into the history of the solar system and the moon. It landed in the Siziwang district of the Inner Mongolia region. Once recovered, the probe was flown to Beijing to be disassembled and analyzed. The spacecraft’s return marks the first time scientists have recovered fresh lunar rock samples since the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 robot probe in 1976.


Scientists estimate that the rocks are billions of years younger than those obtained by the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. These samples were collected from an area of the moon called the Oceanus Procellarum close to the Mons Rumker, which was believed to be volcanic in ancient times.


The samples’ age could help scientists unlock more knowledge about the moon’s history between one billion and three billion years ago. They could also reveal whether there are economically useful resources available on the moon, such as concentrated hydrogen and oxygen.


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