JAXA Shows Off Charcoal-Like Rocks From Ryugu

One of the most exciting missions to happen in space exploration during 2020 was the successful return of samples from the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2. The spacecraft returned its sample collection chamber not long ago and the Japanese space agency JAXA open the container and show the contents to the world.

The samples inside the container are as large as one centimeter and rock hard. They don't break when picked up or poured into additional containers. Inside the sample canister is also smaller black, sandy grains the spacecraft collected at the same time. Hayabusa2 collected two sets of samples from asteroid Ryugu.

The samples were collected from two locations and stored away for the 190 million mile trek back to Earth. The samples were dropped from space into the atmosphere and were retrieved in the Australian outback. Samples were returned to Japan in early December.

The sandy granules, which were described last week, were collected during the first touchdown of the spacecraft in April 2019. The larger charcoal-like fragments were collected during the second touchdown of the spacecraft. The larger samples were collected in July 2019 when an impactor was hurled into the surface of the asteroid to blast out material from below its surface.

Scientists wanted the material from underneath the surface of the asteroid so it wasn't impacted by space radiation or other environmental factors. Different sizes of samples collected suggest that there were different hardnesses of the bedrock on the asteroid.

JAXA is currently conducting its initial examination of asteroid samples with a fuller study to happen next year. The hope is samples will provide insights into the regions of the solar system and life on Earth. While Hayabusa2 has delivered its samples, it's on its way to conduct another mission. Its next phase of life will be an 11-hour expedition to another small and distant asteroid called 1998KY26. The goal of this mission is to study possible defenses against meteorites that could pose a threat to Earth.