Asteroid capsule landing point detected

Asteroid capsule landing point detected

BBC·2020-12-06 06:00

By Paul RinconScience editor, BBC News websiteimage captionArtwork: Hayabusa-2 made its way back to Earth after visiting the near-Earth asteroid RyuguA recovery team in Australia has detected the landing point of a space capsule bearing the first large quantities of rock from an asteroid.The capsule, containing material from a space rock called Ryugu, parachuted down near Woomera in South Australia.The samples were originally collected by a Japanese spacecraft called Hayabusa-2, which spent more than a year investigating the object.The capsule separated from Hayabusa-2, later entering the Earth's atmosphere.Screaming towards Earth at 11km/s, it was picked up by cameras as a dazzling fireball streaking over Australia's Coober Pedy region.Deploying parachutes to slow its descent, the capsule began transmitting a beacon with information about its position.The spacecraft touched down on the vast Woomera range, operated by the Royal Australian Air Force.At around 18:07 GMT, the recovering team identified where the capsule had landed. A helicopter took to the air shortly afterwards to track down the capsule.The chopper is equipped with an antenna to pick up the beacon.WHY, HELLO SAMPLE CAPSULE! The capsule weighs about 16 kg and is about 40 x 20 cm in size. The light is from the heat shield, which should have reached temperatures of around 3000°C during atmospheric re-entry, protecting the sample from such crazy temperatures.— Elizabeth Tasker (@girlandkat) December 5, 2020The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on TwitterOnce it has been located, it will be taken to a "quick-look facility" for inspection before being airlifted to Japan.The 16kg container will be transported to a curation chamber at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) in Sagamihara for analysis and storage.The mission planned to collect a sample of more than 100mg from the asteroid Ryugu.Prof Alan Fitzsimmons, from Queen's University Belfast, said the sample would "reveal a huge amount, not only about the history of the Solar System, but about these particular objects as well".Asteroids are essentially leftover building materials from the formation of the Solar System. They're made of the same stuff that went into building worlds like Earth, but they avoided being incorporated into planets."Having samples from an asteroid like Ryugu will be really exciting for our field. We think Ryugu is made up of super-ancient rocks that will tell us how the Solar System formed," Prof Sara Russell, leader of the planetary materials group at London's Natural History Museum, told BBC News.Studying the samples grabbed from Ryugu could tell us how water and the ingredients for life were delivered to the early Earth.It had long been thought that comets delivered much of the Earth's water in the early days of the Solar System. Alan Fitzsimmons said the chemical profile of water in comets was sometimes different from the profile of water in our planet's oceans.The water composition of some asteroids in the outer Solar System, however, is a much closer match. Ryugu probably originated in this cold zone, before migrating inwards to its current orbit, closer to Earth."It may be that we've been looking to comets all this time for delivering water to Earth in the early Solar System. Perhaps we should have been looking a bit closer to home, at these primitive but rather rocky asteroids," Prof Fitzsimmons told BBC News."Indeed that's something that will be looked at very carefully in these Ryugu samples."Follow Paul on Twitter.


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