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.

photos of asteroid

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.

photo from the Hayabusa-2 probe
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.

collected samples

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
Hawaii in pictures

See also: The old­est mate­r­i­al on Earth is the Murchi­son mete­orite

gravel from an asteroid

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.