Illustration of the imagined asteroid explorer “HAYABUSA2,” which is expectd to return samples from asteroid 1999JU3.

Asteroid Mission To Look For Seeds of Life

By Irene Klotz
Thu Sep 27, 2012 12:30 PM ET

In an ambitious quest to learn more about the building blocks for life, Japan is preparing to launch an ambitious mission to retrieve samples from a primitive asteroid, the same type of object that may have smashed into early Earth, delivering water and organics.

The mission, slated to launch in 2014, is a follow-on to Japan’s troubled, but ultimately successful Hayabusa 1 probe, which managed to snare some microscopic bits of dust from an asteroid known as Itokawa and return them to Earth in June 2010.

That mission helped resolve a long-standing question about the connection between asteroids and a particular group of meteorites that have been recovered on Earth.

Hayabusa 2 is going after a bigger question — whether the ingredients for life arrived on asteroids similar to 1999 JU3, the target of Japan’s new mission. Unlike Itokawa, known as an S-type asteroid, 1999 JU3, an older, carbonaceous or C-type asteroid, is believed to be rich in hydrated minerals and organic matter.

Read more: Asteroid Mission To Look For Seeds of Life : Discovery News

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