Japanese scientists finally received samples from the asteroid, and how many of these samples are there surprised everyone.
Scientists in Japan said they were “speechless” when they saw how much asteroid dust was inside a capsule delivered by the Hayabusa-2 space probe, The Guardian reported.
The Japanese probe collected surface dust and clean material last year from the asteroid Ryugu, some 200 million miles (300 million km) away, during two phases of its six-year mission.
This month it dropped a capsule containing the samples that created the fireball when it entered Earth’s atmosphere and landed in the Australian desert before being transported to Japan.
Scientists at Japan’s Jaxa space agency unscrewed the screws on the capsule’s inner container Tuesday, already detecting a small amount of asteroid dust in the outer shell.
“When we actually opened it, I was speechless. It was more than we expected, and it really impressed me,” said JAXA scientist Hirotaka Sawada. “It wasn’t small particles like powder, there were a lot of samples several millimeters in size.”
Scientists hope this material will shed light on the formation of the universe and possibly provide clues about how life on Earth originated.
They have not yet disclosed whether the material is equal to, or possibly even greater than, the 0.1 grams they said they hoped to discover.
Seiichiro Watanabe, a Hayabusa Project scientist and Nagoya University professor, said he was thrilled nonetheless. “There are a lot of (samples), and they seem to contain a lot of organic matter,” he said. “So I hope we can learn a lot about how organic matter evolved in Ryugu’s body.”
Half of the Hayabusa-2 samples will be given to Jaxa, the U.S. space agency NASA and other international organizations. The rest will be saved for further study as analytical technology develops.
But the probe is still a work in progress and will now begin an extended mission targeting two new asteroids.