About 200 million miles away from Earth seized a Japanese spacecraft just a small sample of dirt from the surface of an asteroid – the second time humanity has ever drawn such a feat. where they are analyzed by researchers. This study could tell us a lot about the chemical makeup of these stones, as well as what materials were present in the early days of the solar system.
The spacecraft possessing this newly acquired asteroid material is Hayabusa-2, operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). It is the sequel to JAXA's original Hayabusa mission, which was the first to return samples of an asteroid to the ground in 201
At the end of the night, the spacecraft fired its engine and initiated the slow-moving vehicle of the vehicle to Ryugu's surface. So, when Hayabusa hovered just above the asteroid, it dropped a horn-like appendage on the ground. As soon as it happened, a bullet-like projectile shot inside the horn outward, stabbing the asteroid and creating a lot of dust and fragments. If all went well, some of these fragments fed up into the horn and gathered into a small chamber inside the spacecraft.
Now, Hayabusa-2 will hold onto that material until it leaves Ryugu and returns to Earth. And when these tests arrive at our planet, they could tell us a little more about what our cosmic neighborhood was like trillions of years ago. "From a scientific point of view, it goes back to the dawn of the sunrise," says Dante Lauretta, principal researcher of NASA's asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-REX, who has worked with the Hayabusa-2 team, The Verge . "These asteroids are the first rocks that formed around the Sun before the planets existed."
Hayabusa-2 hopes to bring back between 10 and 100 milligrams of study. But it is not clear exactly how much the sample spacecraft scooped up. JAXA has no way to measure how much material Hayabusa-2 is assembled. However, the agency says that each maneuver went according to plan and that Hayabusa-2 issued the command to shoot its bullet as expected. It makes them all but sure that the spacecraft has some samples in its stomach.
Actually, the original Hayabusa was still able to get a sample from its asteroid, Itokawa, even though its bullet missile failed. During two touchdown trials, data showed that the bullet firing mechanism did not work. But some dust was still kicked up in the sample collector when Hayabusa touched the surface of Itokawa. "If they successfully come into contact with the asteroid, something will come up in the test chamber," says Lauretta.
Still collecting samples from an asteroid is an incredibly difficult process. It requires precision around the accuracy of an object where there is very little gravity. This means that small forces, such as pressure from solar radiation or gases from the spacecraft, can have great effect and of course push the vehicle. "When you are in these microgravity environments around small asteroids, [small forces] is about to push you around considerably," says Lauretta.
To ensure that this sample went JAXA made as many as possible as possible a number of dresses where they lowered the spacecraft very close to the place at Ryugu, where the team wanted to get get a sample. Hayabusa-2 even implemented two small robbers on the surface of the asteroid in September to collect data on its environment. Ryuguet's terrain turned out to be much rocker than JAXA imagined, and therefore the mission team decided to do some extra tests to make sure everything still works. The great caution meant delaying the scheduled sampling date from October to today.
Now that Hayabusa-2 has taken its test, it is possible it will get another one in the coming months. The spacecraft essentially carries a small cannon which it can use to affect the surface of Ryugu, exposing rocks deeper within the asteroid. Hayabusa-2 could then lower and grab another sample from within the crater. However, experts at JAXA have not decided whether this will actually happen. Hayabusa-2 is slated to leave Ryugu sometime last year.
Meanwhile, today's success can be used to ensure that Lauretta's mission, OSIRIS-REx, is also a success. NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was launched in September 2016 and arrived at an asteroid Bennu late last year. Some time next year, OSIRIS-REX will also get a sample from Bennu, but with a very different instrument than Hayabusa-2. Instead of shooting the asteroid with a projectile, the OSIRIS-REX will blow heavy pressure gas onto the surface of the Bennu, which hopefully causes rocks to jump into a joint plate.
The OSIRIS-REx mission team will prepare a lot for this, but they still do not know exactly how to touch the asteroid. "What is the answer to that surface?" Ask Lauretta. "It has been the greatest uncertainty we have tried to model." Lauretta hopes that the Hayabusa-2 team can give an insight into it.
If all goes well, it means that two different asteroid samples will be returned to Earth in the coming years. And these pieces could keep track of the Solar System's early history and even our own planet. Scientists believe that some of the earliest building blocks of life – such as carbon, hydrogen and other organic materials – may have come to earth on ancient asteroids. Finding this material on the rocks around our solar system can mean that life is possible in other worlds nearby.
"The likelihood that there is life on the ground of Mars, or the oceans of Europe or Titan, becomes much higher," says Lauretta, "if the basic chemistry was ubiquitous in the early solar system and not unique to the earth. "