Earth gets its first asteroid samples from 300 million kilometres away — and they could hold clues to the origins of life

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Earth gets its first asteroid samples from 300 million kilometres away — and they could hold clues to the origins of life
JAXA’s Hayabusa-2 asteroid sample return capsule lands in AustraliaESA
  • The first samples from an asteroid have arrived on Earth and scientists are hopeful that they may include clues to origins of life before it appeared on the planet.
  • The samples collected from under the surface of Asteroid Ryugu are believed to contain pockets of dust that have been untouched since the universe first formed.
  • According to Hayabusa-2’s mission manager, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) only needs around 0.1 grams of dust to conduct all of its research.
Earth has known about the existence of asteroids since the 1800s, but it has taken humans more than two centuries to grab a piece.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa-2 probe, launched back in 2014, has collected samples from an asteroid 300 million kilometres from Earth called Asteroid Ryugu, and successfully brought them back to the planet.


Holding clues to the ‘origins of life’
The samples that have been brought back to Earth come from two different sources. One is dust from the surface of Asteroid Ryugu and the other is underneath the surface.
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The material from under the surface of Asteroid Ryugu is thought to be unchanged since the universe first came into existence. And, if scientists find organic material within these samples, it could provide answers to some of humanity’s burgeoning questions like how did life begin in the universe, even before it started on Earth?

“We still don’t know the origin of life on Earth and through this Hayabusa-2 mission, if we are able to study and understand these organic martial from Ryugu, it could be that these organic materials were the source of life on Earth,“ Hayabusa-2’s mission manager, Makoto Yoshikawa, told the press shortly before the capsule landed in Australia.

According to him, JAXA only needs around 0.1 grams of dust to conduct all of its research.
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The journey isn't over for Hayabusa-2
The samples from Hayabusa-2 are back on Earth, but the probe is not done exploring the universe yet. After its visit to Asteroid Ryugu, the probe is now headed towards a smaller asteroid dubbed 1998 KY26. This journey is expected to take ten years to complete — one way.

So, the next time we hopefully hear from Hayabusa-2 will be after two decades.

The probe’s success with Ryugu, where it could touch down on the surface twice, indicates that getting to 1998 KY26 shouldn’t be a problem. Only one thing stands in its way — the possibility that Hayabusa-2 may run out of fuel.
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The return of Hayabusa-2’s samples comes within weeks of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) OSIRIS-REx probe conducting its own successful heist from Asteroid Bennu.

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