Skip to Content

A capsule carrying asteroid rocks has successfully landed on Earth

They should teach us about how the solar system formed.
December 7, 2020
The capsule lies in the Australian desertJAXA

The news: A capsule containing the first rock samples from the asteroid Ryugu returned to Earth on Sunday, December 6, in “perfect” condition, according to researchers.

The samples were gathered after a six-year mission by the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa-2 to and from Ryugu, which is 180 million miles away. Hayabusa-2 flew close to Earth and dropped off the capsule, which then streaked through the atmosphere at high speeds before deploying a parachute. The 16-kilogram capsule, which contains around 0.1 grams of rock and dust, landed safely in Woomera, South Australia, at 4:37 local time and was located and collected shortly after by a recovery team led by Japan’s space agency, JAXA.

The precious sample is carefully packed to be taken to Japan for studying (JAXA)
The team carefully inspects the spot where it fell (JAXA)

The significance: It’s only the second time in history that samples from an asteroid have arrived on Earth—the first was the original Hayabusa mission, but that managed to bring back only a few micrograms of asteroid dust. The hope is that the samples will help researchers understand the formation of the solar system, including habitable worlds like Earth.

Asteroids are like time capsules of ancient space history because their physical and chemical composition is much better preserved than a planet’s, which changes more over time. Ryugu should also help us understand what kinds of elements and compounds might have been delivered to the early Earth by meteorite impacts. After dropping off its precious cargo, Hayabusa-2 fired its engines again and is now traveling to asteroid 2001 CC21 for a fly-by in July 2026, and then a rendezvous with asteroid 1998 KY26 in July 2031.

What’s next: The capsule is set to be transported to Japan, where we will find out exactly how much asteroid material was gathered, and researchers can start to analyze it to see what clues it holds.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

What to know about this autumn’s covid vaccines

New variants will pose a challenge, but early signs suggest the shots will still boost antibody responses.

DeepMind’s cofounder: Generative AI is just a phase. What’s next is interactive AI.

“This is a profound moment in the history of technology,” says Mustafa Suleyman.

Human-plus-AI solutions mitigate security threats

With the right human oversight, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence can help keep business and customer data secure

Next slide, please: A brief history of the corporate presentation

From million-dollar slide shows to Steve Jobs’s introduction of the iPhone, a bit of show business never hurt plain old business.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.