Hayabusa2 Capsule Returns Asteroid Ryugu Dust to Earth

Dec 8, 2020 | Asteroids, Daily Space

IMAGE: Hayabusa2’s sample return capsule was located in south Australia shortly before dawn local time on December 6. A helicopter crew found it with its parachute draped over a tree. CREDIT: JAXA

On December 6, just two days ago, a capsule containing samples of asteroid Ryugu landed in the Australian Outback. The sample may include pieces of the solar system that were likely some of the earliest formed, and scientists are hoping to learn more about our system’s formation and history.

Hayabusa2 orbited Ryugu from June 2018 to November 2019, collecting two samples while there. One was from the topsoil of the asteroid. The other was from an artificial crater created by basically shooting an impactor at the surface, allowing the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to collect material from the subsurface of the asteroid.

The Hayabusa2 mission is Japan’s second sample return mission after Hayabusa, which brought a tiny sample of asteroid Itokawa back in 2010. That mission was full of technical difficulties, and the return was later than planned. Hayabusa2, however, has gone beautifully, with a picture-perfect reentry and landing. As project manager Yuichi Tsuda said: Hayabusa2 is home. We collected the treasure box.

Amazingly, after all this travel, orbiting, and sample collection, the main Hayabusa2 spacecraft isn’t finished. It still has enough fuel to visit another asteroid, and the next target is the asteroid 1998 KY26. This particular asteroid is smaller than Ryugu and spins faster. Hayabusa2 will reach KY26 in July 2031, and no samples will be collected. Instead, the craft will collect data that might help scientists better understand how these asteroids formed, how they stay together, and the potential damage to Earth if we were hit by one.

I’m looking forward to all the science that will be coming out of this mission. Congratulations to JAXA and all involved.

More Information

JAXA press release 

Phys.org article 

Science News article 

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