Hayabusa's sample return canister was opened to reveal a small particle inside. Credit:

The sample canister of Hayabusa, the troubled probe which had a dramatic re-entry back in June, has now been opened and it has some material in it! This is great news! Due to malfunctions it wasn’t clear if the probe managed to collect material from the rubble pile asteroid Itokawa, but JAXA has found a very small amount of dust particles in the container. It isn’t clear if the dust grains which are very small, about 0.01-millimeter in size, are from the asteroid itself, or if it could be from Earth — left in the container from before launch, or it possibly could have made its way in there during the landing/post landing handling. “Material on the planet or asteroid or particulate matter is at this stage is unknown, we will consider in detail,” is the Google translate version of the JAXA press release. The image above was taken on June 28, 2010, and below is a magnified view of one of the particles.

Magnified view of a dust particle in the Hayabusa canister. Credit: JAXA

This magnified view was taken on June 29, and shows a magnified view of one very small particle being picked up by a quartz manipulator, which appears as a stripe on the image. It will take several weeks to confirm whether the particles are from the asteroid, but if so, would be the first-ever asteroid sample return.

What do you think about this? Do you think Hayabusa brought some asteroid dust back? Or maybe we can just ask Paul the Octopus! Leave a comment!

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Welcome back, Hayabusa!

June 14, 2010

After long and treacherous journey the Japanese probe Hayabusa has returned to Earth safely. It put a spectacular show over the Australian outback, making a fiery re-entry. In the video of the falling debris shot from a DC-8 plane you can see a speck: that speck is the sample return canister which, hopefully, contains some material from the asteroid Itokawa. It was separated three hours before reaching Earth via parachute. The canister has been recovered successfully, it is in good condition and it has been taken back to the Japanese scientist, who will find out if there is anything in the canister. JAXA has said that it is going to share the material with scientists around the world. They say that even if it contains one grain of material it can be cut up into 100 or more samples and distributed to scientists around the world.

The probe was scheduled to return in 2007 but due to several problems the arrival date was pushed back to 2010. JAXA is not sure if it managed to collect a sample but even a grain of material would be a great achievement and it will give us some insight about asteroids and it might tell us something about our past. It is speculated that early asteroid impacts may have seeded Earth with materials to form life, but it is unlikely that something like that will show up in the materials collected, it’s too early to say anyhing. For now, we can keep our fingers crossed and hope that it managed to collect some material from Itokawa, a potato shaped ball of debris and rocks held together by gravity.

If something like that was headed towards Earth we would want to know as much about it as possible.