OU to study asteroid samples which could hold secret to formation of solar system

The shadow of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft after its successful touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu Credit: JAXA via AP

Samples collected by a Japanese space probe from the surface of an asteroid 180 million miles from earth are to be studied by scientists from the Open University.

The samples were collected from Ryugu asteroid in 2018 by a probe launched by the Japanese Space Agency, JAXA.

It is hoped they could carry important clues as to how the solar system was formed.

The Hayabusa2 blasted into space in 2014 on the mission to land on the asteroid. It carried two mini space rovers which captured the moment they landed on the surface of an asteroid.

The left-half of the image is the asteroid surface captured by Rover -1A. Credit: JAXA

The mission became the first rover to land on the surface of an asteroid, according to JAXA.

The samples collected were sent back to earth in a special capsule - it was recovered after landing safely in Australia last December.

Now the Milton Keynes-based institution has become one of the first outside Japan to be able to study the materials.

A team led by Dr Richard Greenwood will examine the materials in the OU's oxygen lab.

Speaking on the OU website, Dr Greenwood described the samples as 'quite simply the most important space materials ever collected.'

Dr Greenwood together with Dr Motoo Ito of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology worked with the Science and Innovation Team at the British Embassy Tokyo to get the samples back to Britain. It's hoped that work by the OU will provide information about the origin of Ryugu and how it relates to other key extraterrestrial samples.