Japanese spacecraft’s gifts: Asteroid chips like charcoal

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TOKYO (AP) – They look like small fragments of charcoal, but soil samples taken from an asteroid and sent back to Earth by a Japanese spacecraft weren’t disappointing.

The samples described by Japanese space officials on Thursday are as large as 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) and hard as a rock, not breaking when picked up or poured into another container. Smaller granules of black sand that the spacecraft collected and returned separately were described last week.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft obtained both sets of samples last year from two locations on the asteroid Ryugu, more than 300 million kilometers (190 million miles) from Earth. He dropped them from space on a target in the Australian Outback, and the samples were brought to Japan in early December.

The sand granules that the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency described last week were from the spacecraft’s first hit in April 2019.

The largest fragments came from the compartment allocated for the second hit on Ryugu, said Tomohiro Usui, space materials scientist.

To get the second set of samples in July last year, Hayabusa2 dropped an impactor to detonate below the asteroid’s surface, collecting material from the craftsman so that it was not affected by the radiation. spatial and other environmental factors.

Usui said the size differences suggested a different hardness of the bedrock on the asteroid. “One possibility is that the second touchdown spot was hard bedrock and larger particles broke and entered the compartment.

JAXA is continuing the initial review of asteroid samples ahead of more comprehensive studies next year. Scientists hope the samples will shed light on the origins of the solar system and life on Earth. Following studies in Japan, some of the samples will be shared with NASA and other international space agencies for further research.

Hayabusa2, meanwhile, is on an 11-year expedition to another small and distant asteroid, 1998KY26, to try to study possible defenses against meteorites that could fly to Earth.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter on https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

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