Hayabusa just hours from home

By Phil Plait | June 12, 2010 4:59 pm

Hayabusa-earth-returnThe Japanese space probe Hayabusa — which went to the asteroid Itokawa, landed, and took a sample — is almost back to Earth. Sunday, around 14:00 UT, it will land in Woomera, Australia with its tiny piece of pristine outer space tucked inside.

There’s lots to say about this, but I’ll just point you first to Universe Today for the background info, then to Emily Lakdawalla at The Planetary Society Blog, because as always Emily has tons of info, including where to go to see the recovery live on the web.

If I can roust myself out of bed and have coffee made by 08:00 my time, I’ll be watching too. Don’t forget to follow Emily on Twitter to get live updates as they happen!


Comments (41)

  1. I’ve seen this movie. Does anyone think that a Japanese probe could bring anything back to Earth without it turning into a giant monster?


  2. Jon

    @1 Romeo Vitelli

    I was thinking of this book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Andromeda_Strain


  3. Ad Hominid

    Have any cranks filed suit to keep it from returning? How would a court do that, you ask? Easy, just issue an injunction against the landing.

  4. Blargh

    Japan seems to be doing all sorts of awesome stuff in space lately.

    Personally I was really excited about the first ever Solar Sail, IKAROS, which has just unfurled a couple of days ago and is being tested now.


    An actual interplanetary probe driven entirely by light, and nothing else? Very ambitious, and very awesome.

  5. I hope it’s designed to land right-side-up.

    And doesn’t get shot down by anyone.

    And doesn’t being anything back that will DOOM US ALL!!! DEATH! DEATH FROM THE SKIES!

  6. So what’s the consensus among Doctor Phil’s readers? Is the probe bringing back a microorganism that will wipe out humanity in one fell swoop, or a shape shifting gelatinous creature that will devour people whole, one by one?

  7. Zathras

    I think it will bring back a set of tall robed beings whole entire purpose is…….

  8. mika

    Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much. We’ve got anti-monster defenses here on earth with Mecha-godzilla et al. The problem is they are as rampaging as enemy monsters and actually couldn’t care less if cities get destroyed in battles.
    I believe it will take a month or two to find out if there is some space monster egg dust amongst the sample – if any.

    Meanwhile, I am hugely excited about Ikaros’ (Interplanetary Kite-Craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun) success of solar sail deployment and power generation, too.

  9. I know they’re usually very polite and all, but…did the Japanese ask permission to snip off a bit of that asteroid and return it to Earth? I mean, it’s bad enough we go slamming things into the moon without asking first! This will probably mess up a whole bunch of horoscopes!

    //tongue out of cheek

  10. Pi-needles

    @7. Zathras Says:

    I think it will bring back a set of tall robed beings whole entire purpose is…….

    On a plate as food? 😉

  11. when Read The blog post o_o
    when reading the comment ^O^/

  12. No time to lose, Hayabusa… move it out!

  13. Messier Tidy Upper

    Great – I can’t wait to see if Hayabusa has successfully recovered a sample from asteroid Itokawa and it’ll be passing over right my head – or nearly so given the Wooomera landing site – sometime soon. Awesome news. :-)

  14. John Paradox

    I hope Mothra is standing by, just in case.


    [great, now I have that ‘summoning song’ from the twins…
    Motha-rai-AH Moth-a-rah…]

  15. Grendel

    The latitude and longitude of Perth, capital city of Western Australia, is 31°57’S (latitude) and 115°52’E (longitude).

    Which is where I am and sadly I think it is just too far South to see re-entry. I would be very happy to hear if I am wrong as the time that it is due to land is around 10pm and it would surely light things up on it’s way to the next state over from us (the lucky bastards who got the space setup!)

    Still, we may still get the SKA.

  16. Procyan

    I read that the sample may be as small as 1 cubic millimeter. Why so small? How could that be representative? Also may have gas but how? There wouldn’t be an atmosphere on such a small body would there?

    Out of bed at oh 8 hundred on a sunday? cruel fate!

  17. Grendel


    Luxury! sheer luxury.

    My rising time is 0430 every day I am working. 0800 seems like decadance!

  18. Jason

    I doubt Perth is too far south, I’m just worried that it’s too far west! 2000kms seems like a long distance to seen the re-entry from. Am I wrong?

  19. Jess Tauber

    The aliens only want to eat the oil in the Gulf, though they may decide to go after a few tea-baggers if they need an afternoon pick-me-up.


  20. Steve-o

    I once saw a red fox behind the Jose O’sheas at 6th and Wads in Lakewood. I had just moved out there from Pittsburgh and thought that maybe they were everywhere in Colorado.

  21. @Procyan: because assorted malfunctions meant that the sample collection mechanism didn’t work properly. They *suspect* that some asteroid material entered the container, but it’s only a suspicion — a lot of people are waiting eagerly to discover whether it picked anything up or not.

    It’s worth checking out the Hayabusa wikipedia page for the full story. The whole mission is a triumph over adversity. (Did you know that because the RCS system has failed, they’ve been having to do the final course corrections using the ion drive? Which is so low thrust that a single correction takes *days*?)

    (Actually, one interesting side effect of the RCS failure is that the main probe wasn’t able to change course much, if at all, after jettisoning the reentry capsule. So it’s going to reenter too. It’s probably just going to burn up, but it would be awesome if some fragments could be recovered. Hayabusa belongs in a museum!)

  22. sophia8

    Home is the sailor from the sea / The hunter from the hill.
    – A.E. Housman

    Welcome home,traveller.

  23. If the probe does bring back “the blob” I don’t think we should be worried. I’ve driven to Woomera and it is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Actually you drive to nowhere and then drive on for another 8 hours would be more accurate. The blob will starve before it starts consuming enough people to keep it going.

  24. I’m hoping it brings back some nice triffids.

  25. Re-entry fireball (animated pics) via elakdawalla – http://twitpic.com/1wgy9a

    or video at… http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/7634995

  26. Messier Tidy Upper

    @^ AndyD : Thanks. :-)

    Many human spacecraft have visited (or at least flown by) asteroids before but would I be right in thinking this is the first time one has returned?

    Well done Hayabusa whatever you may have found a marvelous trip and a bright homecoming. The “peregrine falcon”s has now become a part of our sky again. 8)

    As for the results, seems that if Emily Lakdawalla’s blog is correct (& I expect she is) we’ll still have quite a while to wait :

    Once the capsule is located, it will be several days before it arrives in Japan. Then the capsule itself will be cleaned before being transferred into a clean room. Inside the clean room, the capsule will be opened and the sample catcher transferred to a special holder; together, the two will be transported into an even cleaner room where the capsule will be handled inside a vacuum chamber. So we will have to be patient for days or even weeks to find out whether there will be anything inside!

    Source : http://www.planetary.org/blog/article/00002544/

    So its still going to be some days before the verdict on what, if anything, Hayabusa has caught in its mechanical claws for us.

  27. mika

    … and a still photo – http://ca.c.yimg.jp/news/20100613231603/img.news.yahoo.co.jp/images/20100613/yom/20100613-00000818-yom-sci-view-000.jpg

    Welcome home, Hayabusa. You sure were the most loved probe here in Japan.

  28. That video is fantastic.

    O kaeri, ryokō!

  29. Jamey


    How very odd! I thought at first that was a misquote of Stevenson’s _Requiem_! Thanks!

  30. Jon Hanford

    Awesome preliminary video from the NASA DC-8: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-Xp_-_gLTA&feature=youtu.be

    Thanks go to Emily Lakdawalla for the link.

  31. Matunos @14: It took me several minutes to track down that reference!

  32. Messier Tidy Upper

    The BA has just posted a new thread on this blog incl. a Utube videoclip of Hayabusa’s fiery homecoming here :


    @31. mika :

    Welcome home, Hayabusa. You sure were the most loved probe here in Japan.

    … & also much loved by many Aussies incl. this one. :-)

    Thankyou – domo arigato gozaimas – to the Hayabusa team who brought us this mission and may have brought back a chunk of asteroid Itokawa too. Omedeto and congratulations! :-)

    My thanks to Emily & the BA for bringing us the very latest on this so well too. :-)

  33. #4 Blargh:
    A slight correction. IKAROS isn’t quite the first lightsail. It’s the first to be successfully launched, but not the first to be built. That honour belongs to Cosmos 1, built by the Planetary Society; unfortunately, the Russian rocket which was being used to launch it into orbit failed, and it ended up in the Barents Sea.
    TPS are now planning a series of three more lightsails.

  34. Blargh

    Yup, I followed the Cosmos 1 story back when it was happening, and was very sad that it failed. I thought IKAROS still deserved to be called the first as it’s the first to have made it into its proper element… And, if all goes well, will be the first to really do its work, too. :)

  35. mika


    😉 Yeah, I noticed Aussies were as exited about Hayabusa’s journey home.

    Did you know that the Hayabusa team turned around the probe to let it face the earth before its re-entering the atmosphere — they said they wanted him to have one last look at his home before burning up.
    Here’s the last shot taken by Hayabusa.


    This brought me to tears, actually.

  36. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Mika : Thanks – & no, I hadn’t heard or seen that. Poignant and very fitting. :-)

    (BTW. Have you forwarded that news & image link to the BA? He might possibly have heard about it already but, just in case, that may be a good idea.)

  37. mika

    @Messier – cheers for your suggestion, and sorry I could not respond to you in a timely fashion. I really haven’t got a clue as to how to forward anything to the BA. Never mind.

    Btw, your screen name makes me feel like saying *Messi* rules! 😎


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