Asteroid Sample Coming to Earth in June

May 6, 2010

Here’s a fascinating story we haven’t heard a word about from one of our favorite science blogs, Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy:

The Japanese mission Hayabusa (“Falcon”) has been nothing if not ambitious. Launched in 2004, it reached the bizarre asteroid Itokawa a little over a year later. It took phenomenal images and other measurements, and even landed on the asteroid itself to take samples, destined to be returned to Earth.

But it has suffered a series of crippling mishaps that have threatened the mission time and again with failure. However, despite all that, the end game is in sight: Hayabusa is almost back home, and on June 13, sometime around 14:00 UT, the sample recovery capsule will parachute down to the Earth.

As Mr. Plait informs us, if the capsule lands successfully it will be the very first time that scientists have the opportunity to directly study samples from an asteroid that has not endured the travails of passing through our planet’s atmosphere and impacting its surface (thereby becoming a meteorite).

Habayusa’s sample capsule will land in Woomera, South Australia, on June 13 at 14:00 Universal Time (UT). Here’s a UT conversion chart, just in case you want to put that on your calendar.

Habayusa on Wikipedidia.

• The official Habayusa mission movie.

• Itokawa, the Impossible Asteroid.

• And please forgive us here at the BRI, but does Itokawa look like a giant space turd or what: