Capsule with asteroid samples which could explain origin of life retrieved in Australia

The space agency of Japan has said that its helicopter search team has retrieved a capsule, which is carrying asteroid samples that could explain the origin of life, that landed on a remote area in southern Australia as planned Sunday.

“The capsule collection work at the landing site was completed …,” the space agency said in a tweet about four hours after the capsule landed. ”We practiced a lot for today … it ended safe.” Hayabusa2 had successfully released the small capsule on Saturday and sent it toward Earth to deliver samples from a distant asteroid that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system and life on our planet, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.

Early Sunday the capsule briefly turned into a fireball as it reentered the atmosphere 120 kilometers (75 miles) above Earth. At about 10 kilometers (6 miles) above ground, a parachute was opened to slow its fall and beacon signals were transmitted to indicate its location.

The capsule separated from Hayabusa-2 on Saturday, when the refrigerator-sized space probe that launched into space in 2014 was 220,000 kilometres (137,000 miles) away from Earth.

It landed in the southern Australian desert, where it will be recovered from an area spanning some 100 square kilometres, with search crews guided by beacons emitted as the capsule descended.

Scientists at the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) Woomera Range Complex in South Australia closely monitored the capsule’s descent.

The material collected from the asteroid is believed to be unchanged since the time the universe was formed.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) hopes to find clues to how the materials are distributed in the solar system and are related to life on Earth. Yoshikawa, the mission manager, said 0.1 gram of the dust would be enough to carry out all planned researches.

For Hayabusa2, it’s not the end of the mission, it started in 2014. It is now heading to a small asteroid called 1998KY26 on a journey slated to take 10 years one way, for possible research including finding ways to prevent meteorites from hitting Earth.

So far, its mission has been fully successful. It touched down twice on Ryugu despite the asteroid’s extremely rocky surface, and successfully collected data and samples during the 1½ years it spent near Ryugu after arriving there in June 2018.

In its first touchdown in February 2019, it collected surface dust samples. In a more challenging mission in July that year, it collected underground samples from the asteroid for the first time in space history after landing in a crater that it created earlier by blasting the asteroid”s surface.

Asteroids, which orbit the sun but are much smaller than planets, are among the oldest objects in the solar system and therefore may help explain how Earth evolved. Ryugu in Japanese means “Dragon Palace,” the name of a sea-bottom castle in a Japanese folk tale.

(With inputs from AP and AFP)

Also read: Aeroplane-size asteroid heading for Earth’s orbit, to fly by tonight

Also read: China to send first-ever ‘asteroid mining robot’ into space this November

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