Samples of Asteroid Ryugu Contain More Than 20 Amino Acids

Artist's impression of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft touching down on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. Credit: JAXA/Akihiro Ikeshita?

In 2014, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) dispatched its Hayabusa2 spacecraft to rendezvous with 162173 Ryugu, a Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) that periodically passes close to Earth. In 2018, this sample-return mission reached Ryugu and spent the next year and a half studying its surface and obtaining samples from its surface and subsurface. By 2020, these samples made it back to Earth, where scientists began analyzing them in the hopes of learning more about the early history of the Solar System and answering key questions about the origins of life.

Earlier this year, the first results of the analysis showed that Ryugu is (as expected) rich in carbon, organic molecules, and volatiles (like water) and hinted at the possibility that it was once a comet. Based on a more recent analysis, eight teams of Japanese researchers (including one from JAXA) recently announced that Ryugu carries strains of no less than 20 different amino acids -the building blocks of DNA and life itself! These findings could provide new insight into how life is distributed throughout the cosmos and could mean that it is more common than previously thought.

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Here’s the Asteroid Hayabusa2 is Going to be Visiting Next

The asteroid 1998 KY26 (the point of light located at where the two lines would cross) captured by Hyper Suprime-Cam mounted on the Subaru Telescope. The blurring of the background stars is due to the motion of the telescope tracking the asteroid. Five shots, each with a 2-minute exposure time, taken during 2:04–2:16 on December 10, 2020 (Hawai?i Standard Time) were stacked to create this image. The field of view is 30 x 15 arcseconds. (Credit: NAOJ)

Check out this image of asteroid 1998 KY26 from the Subaru Telescope. It’s not exactly beautiful, but it’s not intended to be. The compelling thing about this image isn’t its attractiveness, it’s the context. This small asteroid is the next target for Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft.

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Some of Hayabusa2’s Samples are as Big as a Centimeter

Soil Samples returned by the Hayabusa2 Spacecraft c. JAXA

A fireball hurtled across the sky on December 5th – the sample return capsule from the Hayabusa2 asteroid mission by JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). The capsule landed in Woomera, a remote location in the Australian Outback. Earlier this month, the capsule’s sample containers revealed fine grain topsoil from asteroid 162173 Ryugu. A second sample container has since been opened that contains chunks up to an entire centimeter in size.

Soil Samples returned by the Hyabusa2 Spacecraft -c JAXA
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Even the Outside of Hayabusa 2’s Sample Capsule has Asteroid Debris on it

Hayabusa 2 artwork
An artist's conception shows Hayabusa 2's sample return capsule making its atmospheric re-entry as its mothership flies above. (JAXA Illustration)

On December 5th, 2020, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa 2 mission sent a sample capsule home containing debris from the near-Earth asteroid (NEA) 162173 Ryugu. This was the culmination of the probe’s first six years in space, which launched in Dec. 2014 and rendezvoused with Ryugu in June 2018. While the probe sets its sights on its new targets, scientists will be busy analyzing the Ryugu sample.

One thing they noticed immediately after opening the shell on Monday (Dec. 21st) was the black sandy dust that lined the capsule’s outer shell. According to a statement issued by JAXA, the black sand is material taken from the surface of Ryugu. Considering what’s inside sample chamber A, it appears that the amount of material obtained by Hayabusa 2 is more substantial than previously thought.

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Japan’s Hayabusa 2 Probe Drops Off Bits of an Asteroid and Heads for Its Next Target

Hayabusa 2 artwork
An artist's conception shows Hayabusa 2's sample return capsule making its atmospheric re-entry as its mothership flies above. (JAXA Illustration)

Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe zoomed past Earth on December 5th and dropped off a capsule containing bits of an asteroid, finishing a six-year round trip.

But the mission is far from over: While Hayabusa 2’s parachute-equipped sample capsule descended to the Australian Outback, its mothership set a new course for an encounter with yet another asteroid in 2031.

Hayabusa 2’s prime objective was to deliver bits of Ryugu, an asteroid that’s currently 11.6 million kilometers from Earth. Mission controllers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, cheered and laughed when word came that the capsule had survived atmospheric re-entry.

Imagery captured by tracking cameras — and from the International Space Station — showed the capsule streaking like a fireball across the sky as it decelerated from an initial speed of 43,000 kilometers per hour.

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It’s Time for Hayabusa-2 to Come Home

Artist's impression of the Hayabusa2 taking samples from the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. Credit: Akihiro Ikeshita/JAXA

Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft is on its way home. The asteroid-visiting, sample-return mission departed asteroid Ryugu (162173 Ryugu) on Wednesday, beginning its year-long journey back to Earth. And it’s carrying some precious cargo.

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