ScienceShot: Japan Probe Picked Up Asteroid Dust—Maybe

TOKYO—In a teasing, two-sentence Japanese announcement posted on its Web site yesterday, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reported finding "minute particles" in the sample container of Hayabusa, the spacecraft that touched down on asteroid Itokawa in November 2005. But the statement added that scientists are unsure if the particles are asteroid dust or earthly contamination. At a press briefing here today, mission manager Jun'ichiro Kawaguchi explained that two micron-sized particles have been spotted during a microscope scan of a sample tray and 10 or more additional particles can be seen on the inside surfaces of the sample container (inset). "We expect a fair amount of these particles to be from Earth, but there could be some particles from the asteroid," Kawaguchi said. The capsule dropped into the Australian outback on 13 June while the spacecraft burned up in the atmosphere. The sample container is being examined at a JAXA facility near Tokyo. Kawguchi said team members will continue the microscope scans, catalog all particles and then determine which, if any, came from the asteroid. The process could take several months.

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