Black 'sand-like' asteroid dust discovered in Japan probe box
This discovery came a week after the probe — called Hayabusa-2 — returned its sample capsule, which reentered the atmosphere in a meteor-like streak of light before setting down in the Australian desert. It was then returned to Japan.
The Japanese space agency (JAXA) released an image of a small collection of sooty material contained in the box — offering a first glimpse of the results of the probe's unprecedented six-year mission.
Black dust found outside Hayabusa-2 capsule's main sample chamber
The dust was discovered in the outer shell of the capsule, said agency officials, who suggested they expect more substantial samples await once they open the inner container — a meticulous task.
"The sample container inside the re-entry capsule was opened on December 14, and we confirmed black grains thought to be from Ryugu were inside," read a tweet from JAXA. "This is outside the main chambers, and likely particles attached to the sample catcher entrance."
Hayabusa-2 parachuted into South Australia
Hayabusa-2 traversed a distance of roughly 200 million miles (300 million km) from Earth to gather its samples, which scientists think might shed light on the origin of life and the birth of the universe, Phys.org reports.
The probe parachuted down near Woomera in South Australia — and along with it the precious asteroid sample from Ryugu.
"Hayabusa-2 is home," said Project manager Yuichi Tsuda during a Sunday press conference, the BBC reports. "We collected the treasure box," he added. "The capsule collection was perfectly done."
Sample container may share more secrets of the universe
In addition to surface dust, the probe also gathered pristine material from below the surface — which the probe stirred to the surface when it fired an "impactor" into the asteroid.
"We will continue our work to open the sample-catcher within the sample container. Extraction of the sample and analysis of it will be carried out," said JAXA.
Japan's Hayabusa-2 en route to distant asteroid
Half of the Hayabusa-2 samples will be shared between JAXA, NASA, and other international agencies, while the rest will be stored for future studies as advances progress in analytic technology.
However, Hayabusa-2's mission is far from over — as it enters an extended operation targeting two new asteroids for study. As of writing, the craft is heading toward a smaller, roughly 100-ft (30-m) wide asteroid. The craft will reach its deep-space destination in 2031.