Feeds

Hayabusa in fiery return to Earth

Asteroid sample pod lands in Oz outback

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft last night ended its seven-year mission to asteroid Itokawa, burning up over the South Australian outback after releasing the sample return cannister, which survived the re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.

Hayabusa's re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. Pic: NASAAirborne Australian, Japanese and NASA boffins were on hand to capture the action from a specially equipped Douglas DC-8, and recorded the spectacular death of Hayabusa. The basketball-sized sample pod, protected by carbon heat shields, is the small dot on the right of the photo.

Australian National University scientist Trevor Ireland, who caught the spectacle from the outback opal mining town of Coober Pedy, described the burn-up as resembling a meteor. He enthused: "It looked just like that in terms of fragmentation and pieces flying off it and glowing, it was just absolutely amazing."

The pod parachuted down into the Woomera Prohibited Area and was located by its onboard radio beacon. Scientists will this morning recover it and seal it in an airtight container for return to Tokyo, where the Japanese space agency (JAXA) will find out if there's any Itokawa inside.

Itokawa asteroidThat's by no means certain, since the Hayabusa mission was beset by technical problems. The spacecraft touched down on Itokawa (pictured) in November 2005 at a distance of 186 million miles (300 million km) from Earth. It was supposed to fire ball bearings into the surface and collect the resulting dust, although it's not clear whether that actually happened.

Chemical thruster woes then almost consigned Hayabusa to a lonely deep-space death, until JAXA managed to use two functioning ion engines to get the craft back on track for a belated return to its planet of origin.

If the cupboard proves to be bare, the mission has nonetheless proved enlightening. Hayabusa surprisingly showed that 535-metre Itokawa is not a solid body, but rather a lump of rubble probably made up of debris from an earlier asteroid collision. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
FORGET the CLIMATE: FATTIES are a MUCH BIGGER problem - study
Fat guy? Drink or smoke? You're worse than a TERRORIST
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
Rosetta probot drilling DENIED: Philae has its 'LEG in the AIR'
NOT best position for scientific fulfillment
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
HUMAN DNA 'will be FOUND ON MOON' – rocking boffin Brian Cox
Crowdfund plan to stimulate Blighty's space programme
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
LIFE, JIM? Comet probot lander found 'ORGANICS' on far-off iceball
That's it for God, then – if Comet 67P has got complex molecules
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.