It is extremely rare that gravel excites scientists so much, but these are not ordinary stones. These are the samples returned to Earth by the Hayabusa 2 probe after its 5.24 billion-kilometer circuit trip to the asteroid Ryugu. The photos were released for the first time since the spacecraft landed in the Australian outback on Dec. 6 and the sample container was flown to Japan.
Earlier we wrote: Hayabusa2 probe returns to Earth with asteroid samples
The footage came after the first sample chamber was opened on Dec. 15. The material collected during the first landing of Hayabusa‑2 on Ryugu in February 2019 was demonstrated. This sample was taken from the surface of an asteroid and contained many black pebbles larger than 1 mm.
In April 2015, Hayabusa2 used a Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI) with an explosive to collect a sample from below the surface. It exploded on impact and formed an artificial crater about 10 meters in diameter on the asteroid. The exhibited material was then collected in July 2019.
These subsurface samples are visible in camera C images and contain many more particles of larger size, some as small as 1 cm across. Overall, the samples weigh about 5.4 grams, which is enough for the initial scientific analysis that the mission is aiming for.
Camera C images also show an “artificial object”, which is aluminum that is separated from the sampler during collection.
Once the samples are received, JAXA scientists will begin to study them. Unlike the siliceous asteroid Itokawa, whose samples were returned to Earth by the previous Hayabusa probe in 2010, Ryugu is a carbonaceous asteroid that will reveal more about the interactions of minerals, water and organic matter in the solar system. Consequently, more light will be shed on the origin of the Earth, the oceans, and all living things.
See also: The oldest material on Earth is the Murchison meteorite
But Hayabusa‑2 research is not over yet. The mission has been extended, and after dropping the Ryugu samples, the probe is on its way to the rapidly spinning microasteroid 2001 CC21. It will hit the target in July 2026 and then continue on its way to encounter asteroid 1998 KY in July 2031, making observations of exoplanets and Earth motion.