TOKYO (AP) – It looks like small pieces of charcoal, but clay samples collected from a planet on Earth by a Japanese spacecraft and returned to Earth were hardly disappointing.
The specimens described on Thursday by Japanese space officials are as large as 1 centimeter (0.4 inches) and are hard rock, breaking when taken or poured into another container. Small black, sandy granules that were collected in the spacecraft and returned separately last week.
Last year’s Haibusa 2 spacecraft found two sets of samples last year at two locations on the asteroid Ryugu, 300 million kilometers (190 million miles) from Earth. It was launched from space at the target of the Australian outback, and samples were brought to Japan in early December.
The sandy granules described last week by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency were from the spacecraft’s first touchdown in April 2019.
There were large pieces from the box allocated for the second touchdown on Rayugu, said space material scientist Tomohiro Usui.
To obtain a second set of specimens in July last year, Hybusa 2 left Effective to blast beneath the planet’s surface, collecting material from the craft so that it would not be affected by space radiation and other environmental factors.
Usui said the size difference indicates the different hardness of the bedrock on the asteroid. “One possibility is that the location of the second touchdown was a hard bedrock and large particles broke and entered the box.”
JX will continue preliminary testing of asteroid samples before a full study next year. Scientists hope the samples will provide an understanding of the origin of the solar system and life on Earth. Following the study in Japan, some samples will be shared with NASA and other international space agencies for additional research.
Meanwhile, Haibusa 2, another small and distant asteroid, is on an 11-year expedition in 1998KY26, trying to study the defense potential against a meteorite that could fly to Earth.
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