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We Got Asteroid Dust!

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Phew. Gotta clean the dust off my computer. Why does moving have to take up so much time?

Well while I was lugging heavy boxes, there was stuff still going on in the world of science.

Perhaps the thing that got me most excited was that the spacecraft Hayabusa, which I have written about before, has succeeded in its mission!

Hayabusa Spacecraft. Image Credit: JAXA

Japanese researchers announced that the craft has acquired fragments of asteroid dust and returned them safely to Earth.

The craft was launched seven years ago, and in 2005 it landed on asteroid Itokawa. Despite some engine trouble, and the fact that the ball bearing it was supposed to shoot into the asteroid’s surface failed to fire, the craft still managed to collect some fragments of space dust.

Asteroid Itokawa. Courtesy of JAXA

Hayabusa returned to Earth in June of 2010, and we have been waiting anxiously for months to find out if the craft had actually gotten some asteroid bits back for us to study.

How do we know these particles are definitely from the asteroid? The official announcement states:

The mineral phases among the collected 1500 particles, their relative abundance ratios and their elemental compositions agree with a class of primitive meteorite, and they do NOT correspond to any rock type on the surface of the Earth.

This absolutely blows my mind! These guys were able to launch a spacecraft, land it on an asteroid, take off from the asteroid and return to Earth with pieces of it!

I think we all need to take a moment and think what it would be like to be working on this project from the start. Seven long years it took, with obstacles almost every step of the way, and now they find out that it was totally worth it. Kudos these researchers, who are no doubt still out partying in celebration.