Hayabusa 2: Japanese Spacecraft Returns To Earth Carrying Pieces Of Distant Asteroid

After spending nearly six years in the space Japan’s ‘Hayabusa 2’ spacecraft have arrived back on Earth carrying samples from a distant asteroid.

Vaishnavi Navalkar

December 7, 2020

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3 min

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Japan’s Space Agency reported that Japan’s Hayabusa 2 Spacecraft took samples of a distant asteroid and has arrived back on Earth. This is the first time that a spacecraft has carried subsurface rock and dust samples of an asteroid back to Earth. Hayabusa 2’s return ended a pioneering, six-year round trip. Japanese scientists are now hoping that the pieces of the asteroid Ryugu will help them learn about the origins of our solar system and life itself.

The samples of the asteroid are carried in a capsule and are only 38 cm across. It was recovered by a helicopter search team in a remote part of southern Australia on Sunday. On touchdown, the asteroid would have travelled 180 million miles, a journey which took over a year. As Hayabusa 2 reached neared to Earth, with 135,000 miles left to go, the capsule detached from the larger spacecraft. It then moved away from Earth to another asteroid and took pictures of the capsule’s journey back to Earth. The capsule descended through the atmosphere. It was protected by a heat shield and as it neared Earth, it opened up a parachute and began broadcasting the location.

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As the landing of Hayabusa 2 neared, pictures of the spacecraft and the capsule were taken using a telescope on Earth. They were relatively visible in the sky. As of now, Scientists are planning to examine the composition of the samples arrived, particularly the organic materials which are found there. Since the samples are taken from beneath the surface, they could look at pieces of an asteroid that have not been contaminated by radiation and other conditions of space. This is the second Hayabusa spacecraft that brought back sample pieces of an asteroid. The first one brought back small pieces of an asteroid in 2010. The first spacecraft samples helped provide information on the evolution of our solar system.

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