Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission that successfully collected soil samples from a near-Earth asteroid and returned it to Earth, has also brought gas, the first gas sample from deep space, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.
The sample was dropped off on Earth by a capsule on December 6 in South Australia. Teams from JAXA were able to retrieve the capsule where it landed and conduct some preliminary tests of gas in the capsule before it was sent to Japan.
The gas was the first step in helping the researchers to confirm that the spacecraft successfully collected a sample from Ryugu in 2019 when the spacecraft visited the asteroid.
Researchers confirmed that the gas originated from Ryugu because their analysis of the gas shows that it is different from the atmospheric composition on Earth.
Two separate analyses, one in Australia on December 7 and another between December 10 to 11 at the Extraterrestrial Sample Curation Center on the JAXA Sagamihara Campus, helped the teams arrive at the same result.
The gas likely came from the collected material on the surface and beneath the surface of the asteroid itself.
The researchers will continue opening the capsule containing the sample to understand more about the gas.
The team also confirmed that black sand grains are also inside the sample container, further confirmation that there is asteroid material inside the capsule.
By the end of 2021, JAXA will share tiny samples from Ryugu to six teams of scientists across the globe.
Meanwhile, Hayabusa2 continues on its path after flying by Earth in early December to drop off the capsule and will visit more asteroids in the future.
Hayabusa2 launched on December 3, 2014, and arrived at the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu in June 2018. The spacecraft collected one sample from the asteroid’s surface on February 22, 2019, then fired a copper “bullet” into the asteroid to create a 33-foot wide impact crater.
A sample was collected from this crater on July 11, 2019. Then, Hayabusa2 departed the asteroid in November 2019 and journeyed back to Earth.
Altogether, the mission’s scientists believes one gram of material was collected, but they can’t be sure until they open it completely.