Japanese probe returns home with asteroid dust

JAXA, the Japanese space agency is becoming more and more active these days, as Japanese researchers are getting involved in more and more ambitious projects. Recently, a probe they sent out returned home with grains of dust gathered from an asteroid, a feat without precedent in history.

The finding could provide valuable insight into the early history of our solar system, as well as give some clues on how it was formed. It is actually only the 4th set of samples recovered from outer space, after the matter collected by the Apollo missions, comet material by Stardust, and solar matter from the Genesis mission.

However, the probe went through some really hard times, after it lost contact with the homebase for seven weeks, after developing a fuel leak. Numerous experts from the US and Australia are also involved in the project, and all of them are really excited by the results.

“These results have exceeded our expectations. I’m not sure how you express something that surpasses your dreams, but I’m filled with emotion,” project chief Junichiro Kawaguchi said.

Hayabusa was launched in 2003 and it reached the asteroid Itokawa in 2005; after taking photos of the 500 long meter asteroid, the ship landed on it two times in November 2005. If everything goes according to plan, it will give us some insight on the birth of the solar system. The mineralogic sampling showed traces of olivine and pyroxene, minerals commonly found in basaltic rocks, such as the ones on the bottom of the ocean or the moon.

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