Ais returning to Earth on Saturday with a very special delivery: a capsule containing the first ever rock samples from beneath the surface of an asteroid. When it crashes to Earth, the capsule will provide a breathtaking spectacle over the Australian outback, crossing the sky like a dazzling fireball.
Project manager Yuichi Tsuda called the mission a “rare event in human history”. It marks only the second time that pristine, intact material directly from an asteroid has been returned to Earth.
JAXA, Japan’s national aerospace and space agency, broadcasts the event live at 11:30 am ET Twitter and YouTube. See it here:
, which is about the size of a refrigerator, launched in December 2014, wowed scientists when it landed on the diamond-shaped asteroid Ryugu, which in Japanese means “dragon palace,” located 185 million miles away. distance.
After six years in space, he is now briefly returning to Earth before setting off on his next mission.
Scientists expect the spacecraft to take home a small amount of asteroid material,, with the aim of learning more about the origins of the solar system and life on Earth. Scientists believe the rocks that make up the asteroid are around four billion years old.
The samples could shed light on “how matter is scattered in the solar system, why it exists on the asteroid and how it is connected to Earth,” Tsuda told reporters, according to a press release on Friday.
The samples were collected during two separate landings on Ryugu last year. During the first, the probe collected dust and blasted a hole in the asteroid’s surface to find additional material beneath it. Several months later, the probe returned to the crater it created to collect more samples.
“We may be able to obtain substances that will give us clues to the birth of a planet and the origin of life … I am very interested in seeing the substances,” mission leader Makoto Yoshikawa told reporters.
The material is contained in a 15-inch-wide capsule that successfully separated from the spacecraft approximately 136,701 miles above Earth. Saturday morning prior to his planned descent into the Australian outback near Woomera in South Australia. A parachute will open about six miles above the ground and signals will alert space agency officials of its location.
But the rescue mission could prove to be a challenge.
According to the Associated Press, JAXA officials have installed satellite antennas, marine radars, drones and helicopters to assist in the treasure hunt.
A fireball will cross the sky on reentry, visible early Sunday morning in Australia, hopefully pointing scientists in the direction of the capsule.
After officials find and collect the capsule, the samples will be processed and flown to Japan, then shared among researchers from JAXA, NASA, and other international organizations.
Some samples will be set aside for future studies as the technology is further advanced.
JAXA plans to extend Hayabusa2’s mission for more than a decade, targeting two new asteroids, 2001 CC21 and 1998 KY26.
NASA OSIRIS-REx mission recentlyfrom another near-Earth asteroid – Bennu, which is similar to Ryugu. The champion will return to Earth in 2023.