Approximately 200 million miles away from Earth, a Japanese spacecraft just got a small sample of dirt from the surface of an asteroid – the second time that man was taken like an act. These important samples are available to return to Earth, where scientists will examine them. This investigation can tell us a great deal about the chemical makeup of stones, as well as what materials are available in the early days of the Solar System.
The spacecraft with the newly acquired asteroid material is Hayabusa-2, operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). This is the successor to the original Hayabusa mission of JAXA, which first returned the examples of an asteroid on Earth in 201
Last night, the spacecraft fired its engine, which started a slow-moving vehicle over Ryugu. Then, when Hayabusa crossed over just asteroid, it extended a ring like a horn to the ground. Once that happens, a project like a bullet inside the horn is taken out, stamping the asteroid and creating a bunch of dust and fragments. If everything is good, some of these fragments are filled with horns and gathered inside a small room inside the spacecraft.
Hayabusa-2 will hold that material until it leaves Ryugu and returns to Earth. And when these samples come to our planet, they can tell us more about what our cosmic neighbors are like billions of years ago. "From a scientific perspective, it will return to the beginning of the solar system," Dante Lauretta, the chief investigator for the OSAIS-REx asteroid sample return mission, who worked on the Hayabusa-2 team, said The Verge . "These asteroids are the first rocks formed around the Sun before the planets exist."
Hayabusa-2 hopes to restore between 10 to 100 milligrams for the study. However, it is not clear exactly how much sample material the spacecraft has reached. JAXA has no way to measure how much Materials Hay-2 has collected. However, the agency said that every maneuver was passed according to the plan and that Hayabusa-2 issued the order to shoot its bullet as expected.
In fact, the original Hayabusa still got a sample from its asteroid, Itokawa, even though its bullet projectile failed. During the two touchdown attempts, data showed that the ammunition was not working. But some dust still got kicked up with sample collector when Hayabusa touched the surface of Itokawa. "If they successfully contact the asteroid, there will be something to form in the sample chamber," Lauretta says.
However, gathering examples from an asteroid is a very difficult process. It requires precision around something which has very little gravity. This means that minute forces, such as pressure from solar radiation or any gas coming from the spacecraft, may have a major impact and push the vehicle off course. "When you are in the microgravity environment around small asteroids, [small forces] you kind of push around big," Lauretta says.
as good as it can, JAXA has had a lot of clothing rehearsals, where they lowered the spacecraft very close to stationed at Ryugu where the team wanted to get a sample. The Hayabusa-2 also placed two small rovers onto the asteroid's surface in September, to collect data on its surroundings. The Ryugu terrain has become much bigger than what JAXA thought was, and so the mission group decided to make some extra tests to make sure everyone was still working. The prosperity of caution means delaying the scheduled sampling date from October to today.
Now that Hayabusa-2 has grabbed its sample, get another one in the future months. The spacecraft is essentially a small canon that can be used to affect the surface of Ryugu, exposing the stones deeper within the asteroid. Hayabusa-2 may lower and take another sample from within that crater. However, JAXA experts do not decide if that happens. Hayabusa-2 is left to leave Ryugu later this year.
Meanwhile, success now is available to ensure that Lauretta's mission, OSIRIS-REx, is also a success. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft of NASA was launched in September 2016 and came to an asthoid Bennu last year. In the next year, OSIRIS-REx will also take a sample from Bennu, although there are different types of instruments than Hayabusa-2 used. Instead of shooting the asteroid using a projectile, the OSIRIS-REx breaks high gas pressure on the surface of Bennu, which is expected to cause rocks to bounce on a plate-plate.
The OSIRIS-REx mission team is preparing for it, but they still do not know exactly what it would look like on an asteroid. "What is the response of that surface?" Lauretta asked. "That's the biggest uncertainty we've tried to model." Lauretta expects the Hayabusa-2 team to give some insights into the matter.
If all is good, it means two different examples of asteroids are coming to Earth over the years to come. And the pieces may have clues about the early history of the Solar System and even on our own planet. Scientists believe that some of the earliest blocks of life of life – such as carbon, hydrogen, and other organic matter – may come to Earth in ancient asteroids. Finding this material on rocks surrounding our Solar System can mean life is possible in other nearby worlds.
"The probability that life over Mars, or the oceans of Europe or Titan, becomes higher," Lauretta says, "if the main chemistry is everywhere in the early Solar System and not peculiar on Earth. "