Hayabusa2 sample reveals the hidden interior of Ryugu

Asteroid Ryugu, as photographed by the Hayabusa2 probe.

Asteroid Ryugu, as photographed by Hayabusa2 probe.
picture: JAXA, University of Tokyo, University of Kochi, Rikkyu University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, Aizu University, AIST

In December 2020, Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe returned to Earth with samples taken from the asteroid Ryugu. nThe search found it The material below the asteroid’s surface is strikingly similar to that at the top, in what is an important discovery.

study Posted today in Science He is the first to describe subsurface material recovered from Ryugu, an asteroid located 174,000 million miles (280 million km) from Earth. The scientists didn’t find anything amazing – no strange bio-fingerprints or strange elements –But they found that the material below the surface is similar to material elsewhere on the asteroid. This likely means that the two sets of samples represent the asteroid as a whole, including the parts hidden inside.

In an email, planetary scientist Shogo Tachibana of the University of Tokyo and lead author of the new paper said the samples will benefit future studies of the asteroid (162173) Ryugu, in terms of its composition and history. His team aims “to determine how representative the samples are because, if they represent the surface of the asteroid, a detailed analysis is done.” [Earth] It will lead to the understanding of the entire asteroid even though it was collected from limited regions on the asteroid.”

A view of Hayabusa 2 hovering near Ryugu. Credit: JAXA

The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 visited Ryugu from June 2018 to November 2019, during which time it obtained surface and subsurface samples. The probe collected subterranean material by sIt catches a small projectile on the asteroid, forming a crater. The probe returned to Earth with the two sets of samples, each one stored in separate containers, on December 6, 2020.

In total, Hayabusa2 managed to deliver almost 5.5 grams of material – enough to put one teaspoon. It doesn’t sound like much, but this is “about fifty times more than the minimum task requirement of 0.1g,” according to the study. The successful return of surface materials means scientists can make in-situ observations of sand and small pebbles found on a real asteroid, rather than studying a massively crashed meteorite. through us ambiance.

A view from Hayabusa2 as it retrieves samples from the asteroid’s surface. Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, University of Kochi, Rikkyu University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, Aizu University, AIST

In this case, it allowed the study of Ryugu – a carbonaceous asteroid which, as its name suggests, is made primarily of carbon. But also some water. Asteroids of this type, also known as C-type asteroids, are dark rocky bodies that likely form in the outer reaches of the asteroid belt. They are also survivors of the early days of the solar system. Scientists on the mission hope to investigate “questions regarding the origin of Earth’s water and the original source of the organic matter that constitutes life,” and “the study of how planets formed through the collision, destruction, and combination of minor planets, which are believed to have formed early in the solar system,” according to To the Japanese space agency JAXA.

in May 2020, Scientists describe it sample material taken from the surface. who – which I found the search that surface materials were not fully representative of known meteorites, in the finding that the proposed asteroids are more dynamic than we realized. With that, it was time to examine the second set of samples. While doing so, Tachibana and his colleagues referred to images of Ryugu’s roof as photographed by him mascot The probe and the two MINERVA-II The rovers, the three of which made observations at multiple locations across the asteroid.

“The sample examination was conducted inside a clean room designated for the sample, and little or no contamination was expected,” Tachibana explained. He said that safely recovering the capsule and quickly preparing the container before it was installed inside the clean room were “the most nerve-wracking parts of the process”. Like the first container, the second container contained millimeter sand, roughly a centimeter-sized gravel, and a fine powder less than a millimeter in size.

“We focused on comparisons between pebbles observed by the spacecraft and returned samples to assess the representation of returned grains collected from limited areas of the asteroid,” Tachibana told me. “We found that the returned samples well represent the surface particles of Ryugu from a morphological point of view and that there are distinct flat and elongated particles on the asteroid, which are also present in the returned sample.”

It’s hardly a result that will take your breath away, but it’s key find with it. The concluding paragraph of the study sums it up nicely:

The color, shape, surface morphology, and structure of the pebbles and refracted sand match that of the Ryugu surface material observed from the spacecraft. Therefore, we conclude that gravel and sand are inside [the two chambers] are representative samples from Ryugu at two surface locations, substantially unchanged during sample collection and return to Earth. The differences in the physical properties between the gravel and sand, which were not expected before the spacecraft reached the asteroid, reflect Ryugu’s geological history.

In fact, the features of the two returned sample sets were consistent with material observed elsewhere on Ryugu, providing a potential glimpse into the entire structure as a whole. Tachibana said his team’s findings will provide a “baseline” for future studies of the asteroid and for investigations into its history.

In fact, work on these samples is just the beginning. Future studies will undoubtedly include chemical and compositional analyzes, among other investigations of rare specimens. It’s still amazing to me that we are able to combine Lumps of dust from distant asteroids, but this is the state of modern science.

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