Over the weekend, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully delivered asteroid dust to Earth, a landmark mission that will help scientists explore the origins of ‘ancient grains’, according to NASA. JAXA’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully landed on the asteroid Ryugu in 2019 and collected dust samples later that year.
Hayabusa2 is an asteroid sample mission that is now complete; It involved launching a spacecraft to land on the carbon-rich asteroid Ryugu, collecting samples in a sealed container, and then depositing the samples on Earth for scientists to study. JAXA reports a complete success, announcing that the sample capsule was launched in the Australian outback last weekend.
Inside the capsule is carbon-rich asteroid dust, which JAXA officials say is in perfect condition. The Japanese space agency will retain the sample for several months and then share it with half a dozen scientific teams around the world by the end of 2021. NASA’s Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory will be one of the teams investigating the sample.
NASA explains that his team will use “cutting edge” tools similar to those used in forensic laboratories to study the asteroid sample. The goal is to learn more about the initial period of our solar system and how the Earth ended up becoming the planet we now inhabit.
There is good reason to focus on Ryugu: it is described as an ancient chunk that had been released from a larger asteroid formed in the same dust and gas that our solar system produced. The asteroid’s material is packed with carbon, the building block of life, and scientists will analyze the sample for organic compounds.