Japanese spacecraft's gifts: Asteroid chips like charcoal

TOKYO (AP) - They resemble small fragments of charcoal, but the soil samples collected from an asteroid and brought back to Earth by a Japanese spaceship were hardly disappointing.
The samples from Japanese space officials described on Thursday are 1 centimeter tall and rock hard. They won't break if picked up or poured into another container. Smaller black, sandy grains that the spaceship collected and returned separately were described last week.
The Hayabusa2 spacecraft received the two sets of samples last year from two locations on the asteroid Ryugu, more than 300 million kilometers from Earth. They fell from space on a target in the Australian outback, and the samples were brought to Japan in early December.
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The sandy granules that the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency described last week came from the spacecraft's first landing in April 2019.
The larger fragments came from the compartment reserved for the second touchdown on Ryugu, said Tomohiro Usui, a space materials scientist.
To get the second set of samples last July, Hayabusa2 dropped an impactor that blasted below the asteroid's surface and collected material from the craftsman so it would not be affected by space radiation and other environmental factors.
Usui said the size differences suggest different bedrock hardnesses on the asteroid. "One possibility is that the location of the second touch was a hard bedrock and larger particles broke and got into the compartment."
JAXA is continuing the initial survey of the asteroid samples before carrying out more extensive studies over the next year. Scientists hope the samples will provide insight into the origins of the solar system and life on earth. After studies in Japan, some of the samples will be shared with NASA and other international space agencies for additional research.
Hayabusa2, meanwhile, is on an 11-year expedition to another small and distant asteroid, 1998KY26, to try to investigate possible defenses against meteorites that could fly towards Earth.
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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

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