They resemble small fragments of charcoal, but the soil samples collected from an asteroid and returned to Earth by a Japanese spacecraft were hardly disappointing. The samples Japanese space officials described Thursday are as big as 0.4 inches and rock hard, not breaking when picked up or poured into another container, reports the AP. Smaller black, sandy granules the spacecraft collected and returned separately were described last week. The Hayabusa2 spacecraft got the two sets of samples last year from two locations on the asteroid Ryugu, more than 190 million miles from Earth. It dropped them from space onto a target in the Australian Outback, and the samples were brought to Japan in early December.
The sandy granules the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency described last week were from the spacecraft's first touchdown in April 2019. The larger fragments were from the compartment allocated for the second touchdown on Ryugu, said Tomohiro Usui, space materials scientist. To get the second set of samples, Hayabusa2 dropped an impactor to blast below the asteroid's surface, collecting material that would be unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors. Usui said the size differences suggest different hardness of the bedrock on the asteroid. JAXA is continuing the initial examination of the asteroid samples ahead of fuller studies next year, after which some of the samples will be shared with NASA and other international space agencies for additional research.
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