NASA to study Ryugu Asteroid sample collected by Japan’s Hayabusa2 New Astromaterials Research Laboratory

Appearance of the asteroid Ryugu from Hayabusa 2. Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo and staff

A few weeks after NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully took samples from the asteroid Bennu, researchers at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston are looking forward to taking a sample from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (Ryugu) asteroid.JAXA) Hayabusa2 spacecraft.

On Sunday, December 6, Hayabusa2 delivered a sample of material from the asteroid Ryugu to Earth. With JAXA NASA, NASA will take part of the Hayabusa2 sample when it returns to Earth in return for one percent of Bennu’s regolith. OSIRIS-REx In 2023.

Keiko Nakamura-Messenger, a scientist and collection curator at NASA’s Astromaterials Research and Exploration Division (ARES), will oversee the care and reliable viewing of the US part of the Hayabusa2 sample. He and his colleagues will work in a new laboratory in Houston, specially built by ARES and other researchers to characterize, document, store and prepare samples.

The Hayabusa2 sample will become the seventh extraterrestrial assembly to be built by humans outside of our planet, and the Bennu samples will be the beginning of an important curation work in the new ARES laboratory.

New Asteroid Laboratory

New laboratories are currently being built at the Johnson Space Center to prepare and study samples returned to Reyugu and NASA’s Osiris-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu. Credit: RS&H

“When I was in college in Japan in the 1990s, my college counselor explained that the only specimens we took from Apollo missions, plus meteorites that fell to Earth or cosmic dust, floated in the stratosphere,” Nakamura-Messenger said. . “Now I will be one of the first people to touch this new astronomical material. It is a great honor to see the example without being seen by practically everyone. ”

ARES researchers Christopher Snead, Ann Nguyen and Mike Zolensky joined Nakamura-Messenger.

“It’s exciting to be the first asteroid of its kind,” Snead said. “To be ready, we are finishing a new lab, as well as installing and configuring special equipment to work with samples that we think will consist of small particles and are very difficult to manage.”

Bring Ryugu home

The Hayabusa2 mission began a six-year journey in December 2014 to study the asteroid Ryugu and collect samples to return to Earth for analysis.

The mission is naturally similar to NASA’s OSIRIS-REx flight to the asteroid Bennu. OSIRIS-REx successfully collected a large sample from Bennu in November and will return it in 2023. Both missions aim to explore what are known as carbon asteroids, where the early solar system was rocky building blocks and could hold keys. to understand how life is formed and how life emerges later.

NASA and JAXA have signed an agreement to share samples from each mission to provide scientists with as much material as possible to study and compare closely. The plan also states that the OSIRIS-REx mission group will definitely benefit from the first discoveries and lessons learned from the Hayabusa2 mission.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft landed on the asteroid in June 2018. There, the ship placed rovers and landers on Ryugu’s surface and collected a sample close to the asteroid’s surface.

About two years later, Hayabusa2 brings an asteroid sample to Earth. On December 6, the spacecraft will be swayed by the Earth to launch a landing capsule containing an asteroid sample. The capsule made a gentle descent into the Woomera Range Complex on the outskirts of South Australia, making a fiery entry through the atmosphere and parachute of our planet. The JAXA recovery team took the capsule and then took it to a nearby portable laboratory to test and secure it for return to Japan. In Japan, researchers will conduct an initial study of the sample and prepare a portion to be allocated to their scientific team and NASA.

Nakamura-Messenger and Snead will personally travel to Japan in December 2021 to return the NASA sample to Johnson.

New laboratories for Little Work

In Houston, two scientists and a team will begin work inside the new laboratory. The JAXA sample is expected to make major discoveries, albeit small: probably only 10 milligrams of asteroid material. In contrast, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collected at least two ounces (60 grams) of the surface material of the asteroid Bennu.

Hayabusa2 researchers are looking forward to seeing a mix of organic and water-containing compounds and minerals that will do much to explore and understand. Snead leads the effort to work with individual bits of the sample, many of which will be microscopic and many times smaller than human hair.

“We’re currently testing how to work with small particles and mineral grains using large gloves that come in sealed metal and glass boxes,” Snead says. “The boxes are filled with nitrogen to keep the samples from reacting with water and air, but that means it’s too dry and there’s a static electricity problem.”

Other important preparations for Snead include the development of a joystick-operated device that uses miniature mechanical tools to pick up small asteroid particles and work with them.

Share with others

During the analysis, description and catalog of the sample, the ARES team will be one of the first teams to learn material from Ryugu. However, their work will allow other qualified scientists to conduct their own research.

ARES scientists and researchers from around the world will be looking to conduct their own research on the Ryugu sample over the coming decades. In doing so, Nakamura-Messenger and Snead will work with researchers to select, prepare, and deliver sample parts with experience. Once the material is complete, the scientists will return it to Johnson, where ARES staff will record in detail where it went and what analyzes were performed with it, before re-delivering the material to more researchers.

The wait for Nakamura-Messenger, Snead and scientists around the world to learn the Ryugu example with their own hands is over. Soon they will have the opportunity to study its structure and chemistry in ways that are impossible in person. Let’s start discoveries!

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