On the night of June 13 2010 (IST), world space history was created when a spacecraft returned to earth carrying particles for the first time from an asteroid 300 million kms away--twice as far as the sun.
The epoch-making mission called Hayabusa was operated by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) and it landed in an Australian desert. A Mumbai-born aerospace scientist, Shyam Bhaskaran, working at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, played a key role in navigating the spacecraft.
Ever since the spacecraft zoomed back to earth, a team of Jap scientists have been analysing the particles brought back from the astroid called Itokowa, and have concluded that most of them were of extraterrestrial origin from Itokowa. Jaxa said that about 1500 grains were identified as rocky particles,were hard and green in colour.
A further analysis of these tiny particles,whose size is less than 10 micrometers,is expected to throw light about the history of the solar system dating back to nearly 4.6 billion years ago. Celestial bodies are believed to retain material from the solar system's earliest days.
According to Jaxa, handling these particles calls for special skills and techniques for which the space agency is developing methods and preparing the necessary equipment. The unmanned Hayabusa mission executed a precise touchdown on Itokowa five years ago.
Japan's science and technology minister, Yoshiaki Tagaki, told mediapersons in Tokyo on Wednesday that it was the world's first and remarkable accomplishment since `` it brought home material from a celestial body other than the moon.''
Junichiro Kawaguchi, Hayabusa project manager remarked: ``Hayabusa's return itself was like a dream and how could I describe what beyond a dream.'' Tomoki Nakamura, an associate professor of planetary science, who analysed the particles has been quoted as saying: ``When I saw the crystal, I pumped my fist in my mind in triumph.''
The particles will be sent to other labs and universities all over the world for further studies, including Nasa. The Hayabusa mission also demonstrated the success of the ion engine technology which will power future deep space missions.
Hayabusa-2 is slated for launch in 2013.