Over the weekend, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully delivered asteroid dust to Earth, a milestone mission that will help scientists explore the origins of the ‘ancient grains,’ according to NASA. JAXA’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully landed on the asteroid Ryugu in 2019 and collected dust samples later that year.
Hayabusa2 is an asteroid sample mission that is now complete; it involved launching a spacecraft to land on the carbon-rich asteroid Ryugu, collect samples in a sealed canister, and then deposit the samples on Earth for scientists to study. JAXA reports complete success, announcing that the sample capsule was dropped in the Australian Outback this past weekend.
Within the capsule lies carbon-rich asteroid dust, which JAXA officials say is in perfect condition. Japan’s space agency will retain the sample for several months, later sharing it with half a dozen scientific teams around the world by the end of 2021. NASA’s Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory will be one of the teams to investigate the sample.
NASA explains that its team will use ‘cutting-edge’ tools similar to the ones used in forensics labs to study the asteroid sample. The goal is to learn more about the early period of our solar system and how Earth ended up becoming the planet we now inhabit.
There’s a good reason to focus on Ryugu — it is described as an ancient chunk that had broken free from a larger asteroid formed in the same dust and gas that produced our solar system. The asteroid’s material is full of carbon, the building block of life, and scientists will analyze the sample for organic compounds.