It’s rare that gravel gets scientists so excited, but these are no ordinary rocks. They’re the samples returned to Earth by Hayabusa2 after its 5.24-billion-km round trip to asteroid Ryugu, and this is our first glimpse at them after the spacecraft landed in the Australian Outback on December 6 and its sample container was transported to Japan.
The images were taken after the first sample chamber, chamber A, was opened on December 15 to reveal material collected from Hayabusa2’s first touchdown on Ryugu that took place in February 2019. This sample was collected from the surface of the asteroid and contained many black-colored pebbles larger than 1 mm.
To collect a sub-surface sample, in April 2015 Hayabusa2 deployed the Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI) device, which was equipped with a plastic explosive charge that detonated on impact to create an artificial crater around 10 m (33 ft) in diameter on the asteroid. The exposed material was then collected in July 2019.