- Paul Rincon
- BBC News Science Editor
An Australian team located and retrieved a space capsule carrying samples of an asteroid.
And they are estimated to be the first significant quantities of aerolite that can shed new light on the history of the Solar System.
The capsule, which contains material from the space rock called Ryugu, fell by a parachute near Woomera, a desert area in southern Australia.
The samples were collected by the Japanese spacecraft called Hayabusa-2, which spent more than a year researching the asteroid.
The capsule – or container – is separated from Hayabusa-2 before entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
The official Hayabusa-2 Twitter account reported that the container and its parachute were found at 19:47 this Saturday (GMT).
Earlier, cameras had captured images of the capsule falling “like a glowing fireball” over the town of Coober Pedy in Australia.
The container used his parachute to slow his descent.
At this point in entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the capsule began to transmit information about it site.
The spacecraft finally landed at Woomera, an area under the control of the Royal Australian Air Force.
When the recovery team identified where the capsule had landed, around 18:07 GMT, a helicopter, with an antenna, was used to locate the container.
It is now under a “quick review” protocol before being flown to Japan.
Then the capsule, which has a weight of 16 kilograms, is transferred to a conservation chamber at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in the city of Sagamihara for analysis and storage.
The Japanese mission attempted to collect a sample of more than 100 milligrams of the Ryugu asteroid.
Professor Alan Fitzsimmons, of Queen’s University in Belfast (Northern Ireland), explained that the sample can reveal a lot of data “not only about the history of the Solar System, but also about these particular objects.”
Asteroids are essentially building blocks remaining from the formation of the Solar system.
They are made of the same material as planets like Earth did.
“Getting samples of an asteroid like Ryugu will be very exciting for our field. We believe Ryugu contains great ancient rocks that will tell us how the Solar System formed,” said Professor Sara Russell, a researcher at the a Planetary Materials group at the London Museum of Natural History, for the BBC.
Studying samples taken from Ryugu could tell us how water arrived and the ingredients for early Earth life.
It was long believed that carriers were comets much of the water The Earth in the early days of the Solar System.
Instead, Professor Fitzsimmons points out that the chemical profile of water in comets is different from that of water in our planet’s oceans.
However, the composition of water in some asteroids in the outer Solar System is more similar.
“We may have been looking in comets about the origins of water on Earth during the early Solar System. Perhaps we should have looked a little closer to home, in these primitive but fairly rocky asteroids,” the expert told the BBC.
“Actually, that is something that will be analyzed very carefully in these Ryugu samples,” he concludes.
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