The air in central South Australia was flooded with a fireball in the early hours of Saturday (5) to Sunday (local time).
A capsule launched by Japanese probe Hayabusa-2 containing material taken from an asteroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 11km / s, setting the thermal shield that protected it to a temperature of about 3000ºC.
After opening a parachute to slow down its trajectory, the 16 kilogram artefact landed at the planned location – Woomera Range complex, an Australian Air Force-controlled rocket launch center in the middle of the desert.
Six years after being sent into space, Japanese stylist Hayabusa-2 made his first ‘presentation’ – Photo: DLR via the BBC
Shortly after landing, a team landed on a helicopter with a sensor that captured the signal emitted by the capsule for collection.
The entire process was shared almost in real time through Hayabusa-2’s Twitter account.
The material will undergo rapid local inspection and then be transported to Japan, to the Japan space agency (Jaxa) installation in Sagamihara city, for analysis.
The probe, on the other hand, is on its way to the next destination: the 1998KY26 asteroid.
WHY, HAVE A HELLO SAMPLE! ☄️
The capsule weighs about 16 kg and is about 40 x 20 cm in size. The light comes from the heat shield, which should have reached temperatures of about 3000 ° C during atmospheric re-entry, protecting the sample from such insane temperatures. pic.twitter.com/7VqBeRk5KE
This is the first time a significant amount of material collected from an asteroid has reached Earth.
The Hayabusa-2 mission was launched into space six years ago. The probe landed on the Ryugu asteroid in June 2018 and investigated the object for nearly a year before returning to make the “delivery”.
Alan Fitzsimmons, of Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland, says the sample will “reveal a lot not only about the history of the Solar System”, but also about these rock bodies.
Asteroids are a type of “excess” material used in the formation of the Solar System. They contain elements that are also found on planets such as the Earth, without being incorporated into them.
“Accessing samples of an asteroid like Ryugu is something that excites professionals in our field. We believe Ryugu contains very old rocks that will tell us a little bit about how the Solar System was formed,” said Sara Russell, leader of the group researching planetary materials at the Natural History Museum in London.
Analyzes can help explain, for example, how water and other ingredients essential to the existence of life arrived on Earth.
For a long time, the scientific community believed that comets in the early Solar System brought water to the planet. It was later found, however, that the chemical profile of the water found in these bodies is often different from that found in the planet’s oceans, says Alan Fitzsimmons.
However, the composition of water in some asteroids outside the Solar System proved much closer. And Ryugu probably originated from that cold area before migrating to its current orbit, closer to Earth.
“We may have looked at comets all this time, when we should have looked a little closer, at these primitive asteroids,” Fitzsimmons adds.
“This is certainly something we will carefully analyze in Ryugu samples.”