All About Space
Revealed: jaw-dropping microscopic image of speck of asteroid dust Brought to Earth eight years ago, scientists are getting up close to these grains of extraterrestrial rock
Scientists still studying tiny grains of dust that were collected from an asteroid 13 years ago have released a stunning close-up photograph.
The image shows a single grain of rock, as viewed under a microscope, retrieved from asteroid 25143 Itokawa by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Hayabusa mission in 2005 along with about 1,500 other samples. It ended up completing a 6 billion kilometre (3.7 billion mile) round trip over seven years.
Tested by researcher Fabrice Cipriani from the European Space Agency, which has three such grains at its ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands, the hope is that the grain will tell us more about the static charging properties of asteroids.
ESA says this will enable a better understanding of the consequences for the surface environment of asteroids, although other researchers are also studying the grains for more clues about the asteroid's mineralogy and composition. This, Cipriani says, will give more clues about the origin of the Solar System. Not bad for grains that are just 40.95 microns in diameter, which is about the width of an average human hair.
This grain was brought back to Earth from Itokawa in 2010, making the robotic Hayabusa spacecraft the very first to return a sample from an asteroid surface to Earth for study. Cipriani is continuing to look at how static electricity can repel asteroid particles from each other.