Hayabusa2 mission samples returned from Ryugu contain tiny grains of ancient material that predate the birth of our Sun, according to new research published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters by Jens Barosch and Larry Nittler led by Carnegie’s Jens Barosch and Larry Nittler.
Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe explored asteroid Ryugu (1621173) between June 2018 and November 2019. Landers and penetrators were dispatched to the asteroid, and several samples were collected.
The Hayabusa2 mission was launched by JAXA in December 2014 to gather samples from Ryugu. A small lander and two rovers were deployed by Hayabusa2 after it arrived at the asteroid in June 2018. Hayabusa2 created an artificial crater by firing an impactor into the asteroid on Feb. 22, 2019. By doing so, the spacecraft was able to retrieve a sample beneath Ryugu’s surface.
The asteroid sample was brought to Earth by Hayabusa2 on Dec. 6, 2020 in a capsule that made a firey reentry, safely landing in Australia.
Ryugu, a cosmic time capsule
This near-Earth object orbits the Sun every 16 months and is named after a Japanese folktale. With Hayabusa2, scientists were able to obtain unique insight into the chemical composition of the early building blocks of our Solar System.
It is possible to identify the isotopic signatures of different presolar grains based on the star and stellar processes they came from, according to Barosch. Different isotopes of the same element have a different number of neutrons but the same number of protons.
Identifying and studying these grains in the lab will enable us to understand better astrophysical phenomena that shape our Solar System.
As stars populate the galaxy, they seed the raw materials from which the next generation will be born. Our Sun formed 4.5 billion years ago when a supernova explosion spewed material into an existing cloud of gas and dust, causing it to collapse. During this process, planets and other objects coalesced around the baby Sun from the remnants of the parent bodies that eventually collided and broke apart to become asteroids and meteorites.
Ryugu’s composition can be examined with sophisticated microanalytical instruments using Hayabusa2 samples, comparing it with primitive meteorites called carbonaceous chondrites.
Researchers found all the types of presolar grains previously known, including one surprise: an easy-to-destroy silicate likely formed off the parent body of the asteroid. Since it was found in a less chemically altered fragment, it was probably untouched by such activity.
As Nittler explained, the composition and abundance of the presolar grains found in the Ryugu samples resembled those found in carbonaceous chondrites previously studied at Carnegie. In the future, the Hayabusa2 samples, along with other meteorites, will be used to inform models and experiments about our Solar System’s birth.
Over the course of a year and a half, Hayabusa surveyed Ryugu and collected samples. Asteroid samples were returned to Earth on 5 December 2020 after the probe left the asteroid in November 2019.
The spacecraft’s mission has now been extended until at least 2031, when it will rendezvous with the small, rapidly rotating asteroid 1998 KY26.
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