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Institute of Advanced Study

Former IAS Fellow hopes to examine the first samples ever grabbed from the surface of an asteroid

(25 June 2010)

Professor Monica Grady, IAS Fellow (January-March 2010), is hoping to be involved in the work to examine the contents of the Japanese space capsule which landed in the Australian Outback on Sunday night (13 June).

The Hayabusa pod is believed to hold the first samples ever grabbed from the surface of an asteroid.  If that is confirmed, it would be the first time fragments of rock have been picked up off the surface of an asteroid and returned to Earth, and only the fourth extraterrestrial sample brought to our planet by a spacecraft.  Scientists hope the Itokawa samples will give them new insights into the make-up of asteroids and help them understand better the early history of the Solar System, which formed more than 4.5 billion years ago.

Professor Grady said she hoped to get to work on some of the material.

"One of the great things about this type of science is that it is very collaborative," she told BBC News.

"Preliminary investigation teams will look to see what minerals the dust is made from, whether there is any carbon in there or any organics. And then scientists all over the world will be assigned very, very tiny amounts - just a few grains.

"Because the instruments we now have are so sophisticated, we only need a few grains to find out an awful lot of information."

For full details of this story visit the BBC website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/science_and_environment/10307048.stm

IAS/St Mary's College Public Lecture: http://www.dur.ac.uk/ias/events/fellowslectures200910/grady/

IAS Fellow information: http://www.dur.ac.uk/ias/fellows/0910fellows/grady/