A capsule containing the world’s first asteroid sub-surface soil samples is in “perfect” condition, according to Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 Project Manager at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). 

“The capsule is in perfect shape. […] We are really looking forward to seeing this capsule,” said Yuichi Tsuda at a press conference on Sunday in Sagamihara, Japan.

The samples collected from a 4.6-billion-year-old asteroid Ryugu can tell us about the origins of the solar system and water on our planet, according to scientists. They believe deep layers of the asteroid are as old as the entire solar system and contain data from 4.6 billion years ago. 

Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft delivered the capsule to Earth on December 5. The container with soil samples from the asteroid, parachuted down into the Woomera Prohibited Area in Southern Australia. The tracking team found the capsule at 19:47 GMT, reported the official Twitter account of the spacecraft. 

It was then taken for analysis at the Woomera Test Range. At the initial inspection, scientists collected gas samples from the container. But only the detailed test in Japan will indicate whether the capsule contains gases from Ryugu itself.

Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi tweeted that he saw the fireball, caused by the capsule passing through the atmosphere, from the International Space Station, where he is currently on a six-month mission.

The samples from asteroid Ryugu, after a long journey, arrived in Japan on December 7. They are currently in a chamber at JAXA in Sagamihara for analysis and storage.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft’s six-year mission started in December 2014, when the spacecraft was launched from the Japanese spaceport on Tanegashima island. Hayabusa2’s mission was to collect samples from asteroid Ryugu, located more than 300 million kilometres away from Earth. Ryugu in Japanese means “Dragon Palace,” evoking a popular Japanese fairy tale about a fisherman who visited a mysterious deep sea castle.

During its mission, The Hayabusa2 has collected soil samples from the Ryugu asteroid twice — in February and July of 2019.


Feature Image Credit: JAXA