Japan awaits spacecraft return with asteroid soil samples

Japan awaits spacecraft return with asteroid soil samples
In this file image taken and released on July 11, 2019, by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft lands on an asteroid to collect samples. (AP)
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Updated 05 December 2020

Japan awaits spacecraft return with asteroid soil samples

Japan awaits spacecraft return with asteroid soil samples
  • Hayabusa2 will return with the world’s first asteroid subsurface samples
  • Scientists say they believe the samples contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors

TOKYO: Japan’s space agency said the Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully separated a capsule and sent it toward Earth to deliver samples from a distant asteroid that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system and life on our planet.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the capsule successfully detached Saturday afternoon from 220,000 kilometers (136,700 miles) away in a challenging operation that required precision control. The capsule is now descending to land in a remote, sparsely populated area of Woomera, Australia, on Sunday.
Hayabusa2 left the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) away, a year ago. After the capsule release, it is now moving away from Earth to capture images of the capsule descending to the planet.
Yuichi Tsuda, project manager at the space agency JAXA, stood up and raised his fists as everyone applauded the moment command center officials confirmed the successful separation of the capsule.
Hayabusa2’s return with the world’s first asteroid subsurface samples comes weeks after NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft made a successful touch-and-go grab of surface samples from asteroid Bennu. China, meanwhile, announced this week its lunar lander collected underground samples and sealed them within the spacecraft for return to Earth, as space developing nations compete in their missions.
Many Hayabusa2 fans gathered to observe the moment of the capsule separation at public viewing events across the country, including one at the Tokyo Dome stadium.
In the early hours of Sunday, the capsule, protected by a heat shield, will briefly turn into a fireball as it reenters the atmosphere 120 kilometers (75 miles) above Earth. At about 10 kilometers (6 miles) above ground, a parachute will open to slow its fall and beacon signals will be transmitted to indicate its location.
JAXA staff have set up satellite dishes at several locations in the target area to receive the signals, while also preparing a marine radar, drones and helicopters to assist in the search and retrieval of the pan-shaped capsule, 40 centimeters (15 inches) in diameter.
Australian National University space rock expert Trevor Ireland, who is in Woomera for the arrival of the capsule, said he expected the Ryugu samples to be similar to the meteorite that fell in Australia near Murchison in Victoria state more than 50 years ago.
“The Murchison meteorite opened a window on the origin of organics on Earth because these rocks were found to contain simple amino acids as well as abundant water,” Ireland said, “We will examine whether Ryugu is a potential source of organic matter and water on Earth when the solar system was forming, and whether these still remain intact on the asteroid.”
Scientists say they believe the samples, especially ones taken from under the asteroid’s surface, contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors. They are particularly interested in analyzing organic materials in the samples.
JAXA hopes to find clues to how the materials are distributed in the solar system and are related to life on Earth.
For Hayabusa2, it’s not the end of the mission it started in 2014. After dropping the capsule, it will return to space and head to another distant small asteroid called 1998KY26 on a journey slated to take 10 years one way, for a possible research including finding ways to prevent meteorites from hitting Earth.
So far, its mission has been fully successful. It touched down twice on Ryugu despite its extremely rocky surface, and successfully collected data and samples during the 1½ years it spent near Ryugu after arriving there in June 2018.
In its first touchdown in February 2019, it collected surface dust samples. In a more challenging mission in July that year, it collected underground samples from the asteroid for the first time in space history after landing in a crater that it created earlier by blasting the asteroid’s surface.
Asteroids, which orbit the sun but are much smaller than planets, are among the oldest objects in the solar system and therefore may help explain how Earth evolved.
Ryugu in Japanese means “Dragon Palace,” the name of a sea-bottom castle in a Japanese folk tale.


No-go for Joe Exotic: Donald Trump’s pardon list omits ‘Tiger King’

No-go for Joe Exotic: Donald Trump’s pardon list omits ‘Tiger King’
Updated 20 January 2021

No-go for Joe Exotic: Donald Trump’s pardon list omits ‘Tiger King’

No-go for Joe Exotic: Donald Trump’s pardon list omits ‘Tiger King’
  • Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, was sentenced in January 2020 to 22 years in federal prison
OKLAHOMA CITY: One name missing in President Donald Trump’s flurry of pardons is “Tiger King” Joe Exotic.
His team was so confident in a pardon that they’d readied a celebratory limousine and a hair and wardrobe team to whisk away the zookeeper-turned-reality-TV-star, who is now serving a 22-year federal prison sentence in Texas. But he wasn’t on the list announced Wednesday morning.
Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, was sentenced in January 2020 to 22 years in federal prison for violating federal wildlife laws and for his role in a failed murder-for-hire plot targeting his chief rival, Carole Baskin, who runs a rescue sanctuary for big cats in Florida. Baskin was not harmed.
Maldonado-Passage, who has maintained his innocence, was also sentenced for killing five tigers, selling tiger cubs and falsifying wildlife records. A jury convicted him in April 2019.
In his pardon application filed in September, Maldonado-Passage’s attorneys argued that he was “railroaded and betrayed” by others. Maldonado-Passage, 57, is scheduled to be released from custody in 2037, but his attorneys said in the application that “he will likely die in prison” because of health concerns.
Maldonado-Passage’s legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.
The blond mullet-wearing zookeeper, known for his expletive-laden rants on YouTube and a failed 2018 Oklahoma gubernatorial campaign, was prominently featured in the popular Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.”