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

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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.

 ??  ?? Close-up image of a grain from Itowaka
Close-up image of a grain from Itowaka

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