The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 successfully detached a capsule and sent it towards Earth to deliver samples from a distant asteroid that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system and life on our planet.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the capsule successfully detached on Saturday afternoon from 220,000 km (136,700 miles) in a difficult operation that required precise control. The capsule is now disembarking and landing in a remote and sparsely populated area in Woomera, Australia, on Sunday.
Hayabusa2 left the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 meters (180 meters mi) away, a year ago. After the capsule has been launched, it is now moving away from Earth to capture images of the capsule as it descends to the planet.
Yuichi Tsuda, the project manager at the space agency Jaxa, stood up, raised his fists as everyone praised the moment when Command Center officials confirmed the success of the capsule separation.
Hayabusa2 returns with the world’s first subsurface asteroid samples This comes weeks after NASA’s Osiris Rex spacecraft successfully extracted touch-and-go surface samples of the asteroid Bennu. Meanwhile, China announced this week that its lunar lander had collected underground samples and sealed them inside the spacecraft to return to Earth, as developing countries compete in space in their missions.
Many Hayabusa2 fans gathered to witness the capsule detachment moment at public viewing events across the country, including one at Tokyo Dome Stadium.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, the capsule, protected by heat shield, will briefly transform into a fireball as it enters the atmosphere 120 kilometers (75 miles) above Earth. About 10 kilometers (6 miles) above the ground, the parachute will open to slow its fall and the lighthouse signals will be sent to indicate its location.
Jaxa personnel have set up satellite dishes at several locations in the target area to receive signals, while setting up naval radar, drones and helicopters to assist in the search and retrieval of the mass-shaped capsule, 40 cm (15 in) in diameter.
Australian National University space rock expert Trevor Ireland, who was in Woomera for the capsule’s arrival, said he expected the Riojo samples to be similar to the meteorite that fell in Australia near Murchison, in Victoria state, more than 50 years ago.
Ireland said: “The Murchison meteorite opened a window to the origin of organic matter on Earth because these rocks contain simple amino acids in addition to abundant water.”
“We will examine whether Ryugu was a possible source of organic matter and water on Earth when the solar system was forming, and whether it was still intact on the asteroid.”
Scientists say they believe that samples, especially those taken from below the surface of the asteroid, contain valuable data that is not affected by space radiation and other environmental factors. They are particularly interested in analyzing the organic matter in samples.
Jaxa hopes to find clues about how matter is distributed in the solar system and related to life on Earth.
For Hayabusa2, it’s not the end of the mission you started in 2014. After dropping the capsule, it will return to space and head to another distant small asteroid called 1998KY26 on a planned 10-year trip in one direction, for potential research that includes finding ways to prevent meteorites from hitting Earth. .
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