Published June 14, 2010
Japan's Hayabusa, the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid and return to Earth, made a fiery reentry over southern Australia Sunday night. Scientists hope the craft's capsule contains samples from the asteroid Itokowa.
©2010 National Geographic; video courtesy NASA
The Japanese-built Hayabusa spacecraft re-entered earth’s atmosphere Sunday night and put on a spectacular show as it burned up while traveling at the speed of an asteroid crashing to earth.
SOUNDBITE: Jay Grinstead, NASA Reentry Observation Project Mgr.
“Hayabusa’s return at 7 ½ miles per second is rare. Something like this is not going to happen for several years at minimum.”
This video was recorded by a group of astronomers from NASA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, also known as JAXA, and other organizations.
They were aboard NASA’s DC-8 laboratory packed with cameras and other imaging instruments to capture the high-speed re-entry over an unpopulated area of South Australia.
The Japanese spacecraft spent seven years in space, including a short stop on the asteroid Itokowa five years ago. It has hopefully brought back samples from the asteroid.
It’s the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid and return to earth.
Scientists recovered its space capsule Monday in Australia’s Outback.
The samples would initially be studied by a team of scientists in Japan, and then other scientists will have the opportunity to examine the materials.
The re-entry offered a new opportunity for scientists to observe how the spacecraft broke into pieces, and how well the heat shield material protected the capsule with the sample.
The data collected can be used for analysis for future earth re-entry voyages.
Feed the World
We've made our magazine's best stories about the future of food available in a free iPad app.
How do we feed nine billion people by 2050, and how do we do so sustainably?
Latest From Nat Geo
Some jellyfish are known to migrate hundreds of feet in pursuit of prey. See some of our favorite jellyfish pictures in honor of Jellyfish Day.
The life cycles of these insects—from flies to maggots to beetles—can help in crime scene investigations. Caution: This video may make you squirm.