Asteroid Dust

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Asteroid Dust

Sometime this summer, a few scientists will get little bits of heaven: grains of rock and dirt from an asteroid.

The grains were collected by Hyabusa 2, a Japanese mission. It made contact with the asteroid Ryugu in early 2019. That knocked a little bit of material off the surface. Hyabusa grabbed about five grams of it. The sample-containing capsule landed in Australia in December 2020. And that started a process that will lead to detailed studies of the samples.

The process began when the capsule was recovered. Technicians checked the container to make sure it was undamaged, then stuck a needle in it to pull out any gases for analysis. They transported the container to Japan in a case that protected the samples from vibrations and exposure to the air.

In Japan, the samples were processed in a class-1,000 clean room, where dust and other contamination were scrubbed from the air. And when the sample container was opened, the bits of Ryugu were handled in vacuum chambers or nitrogen-filled cabinets, with special tools made of materials that wouldn’t add earthly contamination. Technicians used microscope-guided tweezers to pluck out each bit of debris that was at least a millimeter across.

Scientists then did a quick analysis of the samples; more about that tomorrow. Now, the samples are being cataloged and sorted before they’re ready for shipment — and a detailed study of asteroid Ryugu.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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