In 2020, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 was sent to the diamond-shaped asteroid 162173 Ryugu to take samples for further studies. The capsule carrying the samples landed in the Australian Outback, and now scientists are studying the fragments.

But in a rare chance, news outlet WTTW reported that Argonne National Laboratory has become the only US facility grated by the Japanese team to study the samples using the Advanced Photon Source (APS), which generates ultra-bright X-rays to allow scientists to study the fragments at an atomic scale.

 Argonne Has Become the Only US Facility to Study Samples of Asteroid 162173 Ryugu From Japanese Space Mission
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
Rendering of JAXA's Hayabusa2 probe approaching its target asteroid Ryugu. (DLR Geran Aerospace Center)

Hayabusa2's Visit to Asteroid 162173 Ryugu

According to Space.com, asteroid 162173 Ryugu was discovered in 1999 thanks to the collaborative US-based project called Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) that aims to catalog and track space objects.

The asteroid orbits around the Sun between Mars and Earth and the Japanese space agency JAXA has estimated that the asteroid is likely to be about 2,952 feet (900 meters). It is also classified as a "potentially hazardous" space rock because it sometimes crosses Earth's orbit, although it does not pose any imminent danger to the planet.

The Hayabusa2 mission was selected in 2006 by JAXA in which mission is to study the asteroid and bring back samples. The spacecraft was launched on December 14 and arrived at Ryugu in 2018. It spent the next 16 months orbiting Ryugu while taking photos and analyzing the asteroid.

The spacecraft also created a crater on the asteroid's surface using a small copper cannonball so that scientists could study the space rock's composition. Two hopping robots called MINERVA-II1A and MINERVA-II1B were released on the surface wherein they studied the asteroid for months.

Another hopper called MASCOT by Geran aerospace company DLR was also released but only lasted for 17 hours on the surface because its battery ran out.

Hayabusa2 did several practice landings on Ryugu to retrieve samples. In February 2019, it successfully snagged some fragments and started a return trip in November 2019. The samples came back to Earth in December 2020.

ALSO READ: Hayabusa2 probes asteroid for secrets

Argonne National Laboratory Gets Rare Chance to Study Ryugu's Fragments

As WTTW reported, Argonne is using APS to study the fragments from asteroid 162173 Ryugu. Senior physicist Esen Ercan Alp of Argonne's X-ray Science division is leading the team to probe into the samples. He said that the Japanese team has allowed them to access the precious fragments because of their previous work involving the X-ray technique called Mossbauer spectroscopy.

Alp said that he had been trying to request the Japanese researchers for permission to analyze the samples even before they arrived on Earth. The Japanese team sent them test samples from meteorites to test whether they could deliver what they promise.

Alp's team studied the meteorites for two years and sent results to researchers in Japan. The latter approved of the results by Alp's team and finally granted Argonne access to study the fragments taken from asteroid 162173 Ryugu. Alp said that what draws international researchers is the APS.

The machine is extremely large, which is about a kilometer in circumference. Alp said that it is the largest in the US and runs electrons around the ring in a way that allows scientists to study iron in a way that no one else can do, making it unique from any machines around the world.

RELATED ARTICLE: Ryugu's First Sample Arrived, NASA Conducts Examination of Asteroid

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