Japan’s space organization intends to bring soil samples back from the Mars region in front of the US and Chinese missions presently working on Mars, to discover signs of the planet’s origin and traces of conceivable life.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, plans to launch an explorer in 2024 to arrive on the Martian moon Phobos to gather 10 grams (0.35 ounce) of soil and acquire it back to Earth 2029.
The quick return trip would put Japan in front of the United States and China in bringing back samples from the Martian region despite beginning later, project manager Yasuhiro Kawakatsu said in an online news conference Thursday.
NASA’s Perseverance rover is working in a Mars crater where it is to gather 31 samples that are to be gotten back to Earth with assistance from the European Space Agency as early as 2031. China landed a rocket on Mars in May and plans to bring back samples around 2030.
JAXA researchers believe about 0.1 percent of the surface soil on Phobos came from Mars and 10 grams could contain around 30 granules, contingent upon the consistency of the soil, Kawakatsu said.
Tomohiro Usui, professor at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, said soil on Phobos is probably going to be a mixture of material from the moon itself and material from Mars that was spread by sandstorms. Gathering samples from different locations on Phobos could give a more prominent shot at acquiring potential traces of life from Mars than getting soil from a single location on Mars, he said.
Any life forms that may have come from Mars will have died due to harsh solar and cosmic radiation on Phobos, JAXA researchers said. The NASA and the European Space Agency missions focus on potential living forms and evolution of the space of the Jezero crater, believed to be an old lake.
By studying Phobos soil samples including material from Mars, researchers desire to find out about the development of the Martian biosphere, Usui said.
He said Japanese research on Phobos and NASA’s samples from specific locations in the Martian crater can complete one another and could prompt responses to questions like how Martian life, if present, arisen and developed in time and place.
Last December, a JAXA probe, Hayabusa2, brought back more than 5 grams of soil from the asteroid Ryugu, more than 190 million miles from Earth, in the world’s first successful return of an asteroid sample.