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The first complete sample of an asteroid returning confirms the early origins of the Solar System


Scientists have finally studied their first complete samples returned from an asteroid in space, and they confirm what you’d expect — while providing some new ideas. ScienceAlert The researchers report releasing two papers revealing their first analysis of samples from Ryugu, the space rock the Hayabusa2 probe visited in February 2019. The team knew Ryugu would be a common, carbon-rich, type C asteroid, but that still makes it a good peek into the components of the early solar system.

The samples indicate that Ryugu has a carbon-dominated composition similar to that of the Sun’s photosphere (exosphere), just like some meteorites. It’s made of the most primitive material in the solar system, emerging from a disk of dust that formed with the sun itself. It is also quite porous, like many asteroids. However, it is not a neat and tidy example. Most C-type asteroids have a low albedo (solar radiation reflection) of 0.03 to 0.09 due to carbon, but Ryugu is 0.02. It is dark even by the standards of its cosmic neighbours.

As it stands, having these studies is an achievement. The first attempt to return a sample, from an Itokawa asteroid in 2010, removed a tiny amount of dust. There’s still more to come from Ryugu, but even current data can help scientists reshape their understanding of the solar system’s birth and evolution.

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