The asteroid Ryugu belongs to a particularly primitive type of space rock, and may contain clues about the conditions and chemistry of the early days of the Solar System - some 4.5 billion years ago. It could also be the precursor for humanity to make a home on other worlds.

By Ian Horswill


Posted on November 14, 2019

A space probe is leaving an asteroid with samples that could potentially shed light on the origins of the solar system.

The mission to the asteroid Ryugu by Hayabusa2, operated by Japan’s space agency JAXA, will also act as a demonstration for the nascent space mining industry. The ability to obtain resources such as water, iron and silicon on asteroids may be essential for humanity to make a home on other worlds.

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Hayabusa2 began to depart its orbit around Ryugu where it was for 17 months. On Wednesday it carried two samples of the rock of the asteroid back to Earth for analysis. They were the first underground samples collected from an asteroid in space history.

Ryugu belongs to a particularly primitive type of space rock, and may contain clues about the conditions and chemistry of the early days of the Solar System – some 4.5 billion years ago.

asteroid ryugu

The spacecraft will take about five days to exit the sphere of Ryugu’s gravitational influence. During this time, it will make “farewell observations” as it slowly moves away from the asteroid. Then it will fire its main engines for the journey back to Earth. The spacecraft is due to drop a capsule with the samples in the outback of South Australia in December 2020.

The original Hayabusa mission returned the first asteroid samples to Earth in 2010. Hayabusa2 has sampled the interior of the asteroid, first by firing a tantalum bullet into the rock, then dropping an explosive charge that disturbed an area about 20-metres wide on its surface, New Scientist reported.

Hayabusa2 first launched in 2014. Three and a half years later, it reached the asteroid Ryugu, located about 300 million km (190 million miles) from Earth.

Scientists believe the work ensures more pristine samples, since they would not have been exposed to the harsh environment of space, BBC News reported.

The 13 month long return journey is much shorter than the three and a half years it took Hayabusa2 to reach Ryugu, thanks to the asteroid now being much closer to Earth than it was in 2014.

Asteroids are some of the oldest objects in space.

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