Japanese scientists have confirmed that particles found inside the Hayabusa space probe are from the asteroid Itokawa, the first time that specimens from an asteroid have been recovered.
Hayabusa returned to Earth in June, its heat-proof pod crashing into the Australian outback after a seven-year journey, but scientists needed an extended analysis of the samples within the craft to make sure they were from Itokawa.
"This is a world first and it is a remarkable accomplishment that brought home material from a celestial body other than the moon," Yoshiaki Takagu, science and technology minister, told a press conference called to announce the scientists' findings, Telegraph.co.uk reports.
Japan's space agency, Jaxa, says that scanning electron microscope analysis of the 1,500 particles collected by the probe proves they can't be of terrestrial origin.
The particles are tiny, mostly lesss than ten micrometers across, and include the minerals olivine, pyroxene and plagioclase.
"The mineral phases among the collected 1,500 particles, their relative abundance ratios and their elemental compositions agree with a class of primitive meteorite, and they do not correspond to any rock type on the surface of the Earth," says Jaxa. "The minerals are consistent with the surface material predicted by the remote sensing instruments carried on board Hayabusa," TG Daily reports.