Hayabusa Contains a Hint of Dust
"Material on the planet or asteroid or particulate matter is at this stage is unknown, we will consider in detail," is the Google translate version of the JAXA press release.
According to Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Society, the dust grains are extremely small, about 0.01-millimeter in size, and there are about a dozen of them inside the container.
It likely will take several weeks to confirm whether the particles are from the asteroid, but if so, would be the first-ever asteroid sample return.
That was only the second time in history a spacecraft descended to the surface of an asteroid. NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous-Shoemaker spacecraft landed on asteroid Eros on Feb. 12, 2001.
Hayabusa left asteroid Itokawa in 2007 for its long journey back to Earth. The sample return capsule was ejected from the Hayabusa spacecraft and landed in the Australian Outback on June 13, 2010.
If the dust is indeed from Itokawa, the samples could provide insight into the composition of the space rock. Such information can help astrobiologists understand the role of asteroid impacts in delivering materials to the early Earth that could have been important in the origin of life.