Samples taken from the┬áprimitive asteroid were sent to Earth Saturday by Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft, which may offer potential clues into the nature of Earth life and the development of the solar system. On December 5, the 40-centimeter, 16kg Hayabusa2 re-entry capsule carrying specimens from asteroid Ryugu rendered a clearly fiery entrance into the atmosphere, arriving in the Woomera Restricted Area in southern Australia shortly before 1:00 pm Eastern.

The case was closely monitored with live monitoring by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. After the sunrise at Woomera, capsule retrieval began, with an extensive inspection carried out by helicopter and driven by a beacon signal. At 2:47 pm Eastern, JAXA reported, the capsule was effectively recovered. The recovery missions follow the completion of Hayabusa2’s primary mission, a trip of six years and over 5 billion kilometers.

The capsule will first undergo testing before being shipped to Japan at the Quick Look Facility, where the capsule will finally be opened. In the first vacuum, and in nitrogen conditions, the samples would first undergo laboratory analysis. On December 4, at an altitude of around 220,000 kilometers, the mission’s return capsule separated from Hayabusa2, paving the way for re-entry and the main spacecraft to start a new search.

Hayabusa2 is the 2nd visit that asteroid material has been returned to Earth by Japan. The achievement also comes in the middle of a whirlwind of challenging and complicated sample return missions. At the time of publication, moon samples suspected to be the youngest obtained so far were on board a Chinese Chang’e-5 spacecraft in lunar orbit. In contrast, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was able to secure the material it gathered from the Bennu asteroid in October.

In December 2014, Hayabusa2 deployed on a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket and, in June 2018, rendezvoused with its Ryugu target, carbonaceous asteroid. In the 1-kilometer diameter asteroid area, the spacecraft spent 18 months mapping and studying the celestial body’s structure, surface temperature, and possible magnetic field, as well as launching two rovers as well as lander on the surface.

In 2019, two separate sampling operations that used a 1-meter-long sample horn collected the material from Ryugu given by Hayabusa2. With a sample of the substance being shipped to the instrument, a 5-gram tantalum projectile was shot down the horn, accumulating a planned cumulative sample mass of more than 100 milligrams. The second sampling, from under the atmosphere, excavated pristine soil where it would be sheltered from space weathering. In November 2019, the spacecraft took off for Land.

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