Earth is just a few months away from receiving extraterrestrial material. On December 6 of this year, samples collected from the asteroid Ryugu should land on our planet with the Hayabusa 2 probe, launched in 2014 by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The place scheduled for arrival is Outback, a desert region of Australia.
If all goes well, the return, which must still be authorized by the Australian Space Agency, will mark the moment when more details regarding the 900-meter celestial body will be known, as the equipment, which arrived there in June 2018, after a 300 million km trip, implanted several mini-probes on the object’s surface and made its explorations twice in 2019.
The first exploration took place in February, when pieces of the surface were collected. In July, Hayabusa2 took samples of the subsurface, exposed by explosions caused in April for this purpose. A few months later, it was time to say goodbye to the place.
In November 2019, Hayabusa 2’s journey back to our planet was initiated, since the mission plan, from the beginning, was for a small capsule containing Ryugu samples to be brought in December 2020 to the Woomera Range Complex, a facility in southern Australia administered by the Royal Australian Air Force. With the announcement made by the two countries, it seems that everything will really work out.
Planetary scientists are, of course, excited about the event, since, based on studies carried out in laboratories, great details about the object can be discovered. With the help of powerful – and varied – instruments, information on the formation and evolution of asteroids and the role that carbon-rich space rocks may have played for life on Earth are not ruled out.
Another agency interested in this fascinating world, of course, is NASA, which, since December 2018, has undertaken its own initiative of the type using OSIRIS-REx. The equipment studies Bennu closely, about 2 billion kilometers from here. Materials are expected to be collected in October this year – and souvenirs to be brought home in 2023.