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The world watched and waited for the Hayabusa spacecraft to make its return to Earth on June 13, 2010 and the people of Japan — who built and launched the little spacecraft that could (and did!) — were especially hopeful in watching and waiting. Japan’s Subaru Telescope (although located on Mauna Kea in Hawaii) turned its expectant eyes towards Hayabusa and captured the spacecraft’s flight between the Moon and Earth in 11 different images.
A note from the Subaru Telescope team:
During the busy time preparing the observations, Doctor Masafumi Yagi and his team managed to maneuver the telescope just in time to catch Hayabusa before it disappeared down south in the twilight sky. At that time, Hayabusa was a little less than half way between Moon and Earth. Five seconds exposures, each spaced by 35 – 50 seconds in the V filter with Suprime Cam, it showed up in clear trace at the position expected to be. Brightness is estimated to be only 21 magnitudes. At this level, one can see a background galaxy clearly.
We are waiting to hear more from the project team at ISAS/JAXA. In the meantime, congratulations to all who are involved in this unprecedented endeavor.
A GIF animation of the 11 images is available here — but be warned, the file is huge. You can click on the top image for a full-sized huge-ified image, too.
And here are some images of the recovery teams who picked up the sample return canister in the Woomera Prohibited Area in Australia. The canister will be taken to Japan and opened in a few weeks, or perhaps months, after rigorous testing. Only then will we find out if any asteroid samples made it in the canister for the ride back to Earth.