JAXA, the Japanese space agency, has released the first photographs of the interior of the Hayabusa probe. Last week, we were starting to fear that the seven-year mission had returned to Earth without the crumbs of asteroid Itokawa that it had been sent for. But that photo looks promising.
In the image, a microscopic manipulator made of quartz is grabbing a teeny piece of something.
Reportedly, the mechanism designed to capture bits of the asteroid malfunctioned (perhaps when Hayabusa was hit by a solar flare), and did not grab the chunks of rock it was supposed to. But the researchers now believe that some bits of asteroid dust, kicked up by the probe’s landing, made their way into the capture chamber regardless.
Analysis of the dust is proceeding.