At a press conference yesterday, officials from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced that they had “scraped up” a hundred or so particles of dust, perhaps grains of dust from the asteroid, Itokawa, inside the sample return capsule of the Hayabusa spacecraft.
This is great news, as previous reports from JAXA indicated they weren’t sure if there were any particles at all inside the container. Originally, the mission had hoped to bring back “peanut-sized” asteroid samples, but the device that was supposed to fire pellets at the asteroid may not have worked, and for a time, scientists were even unsure if the spacecraft had even touched down on the asteroid.
During the seven-year round trip Hayabusa arrived at Itokawa in November, 2005. After a circuitous and troubled-filled return trip home, the sample return capsule was ejected and landed in Australia in June of this year.
The 100 or so grains reported yesterday are extremely tiny, and the micron-sized particles were scraped off the sides of container and are now being examined with an electron microscope. They don’t appear to be metallic, so are not fragments from the container, but they don’t have absolute proof yet that the particles are from the asteroid.
Soon, the grains will be examined using particle accelerator/synchrotron. Additionally, some reports indicated there is another yet unopened compartment that will be examined soon.
A little surfing of the net (in all languages) reveals there are tons of news articles out there reporting this. The only problem is that some of these news reports called the potential asteroid particles “extraterrestrial,” which then became translated as “extraterrestrial life” in the next article in another language. Ah, the wonders of the internet!