Japan to bring soil samples from Mars moon by 2029
Japan's space agency plans to bring soil samples back from the Mars region ahead of the US and Chinese missions now operating on Mars, in hopes of finding clues to the planet's origin and traces of possible life. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, plans to launch an explorer in 2024 to land on the Martian moon Phobos.
JAXA plans to collect 10 grams of soil from Phobos
JAXA plans to collect 10 grams (0.35 ounces) of soil from Phobos and bring it back to Earth in 2029. "The rapid return trip would put Japan ahead of the United States and China in bringing back samples from the Martian region despite starting later," project manager Yasuhiro Kawakatsu said in an online news conference on Thursday.
About 0.1% surface soil on Phobos came from Mars: JAXA
NASA's Perseverance rover is operating in the Mars crater where it is to collect 31 samples that are to be returned to Earth with help from European Space Agency as early as 2031. China landed spacecraft on Mars in May and plans to bring back samples around 2030. "JAXA scientists believe about 0.1 percent of surface soil on Phobos came from Mars," Kawakatsu said.
Ten grams of surface soil could contain 30 granules: Kawakatsu
"Ten grams of surface soil could contain about 30 granules, depending on the consistency of the soil," Kawakatsu said. Tomohiro Usui, professor at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, said, "Soil on Phobos is likely to be a mixture of material from the moon itself and material from Mars that was spread by sandstorms."
Collecting samples from multiple locations on Phobos is important: Usui
"Collecting samples from multiple locations on Phobos could provide a greater chance of obtaining possible traces of life from Mars than obtaining soil from a single location on Mars," he said.
Scientists hope to learn about the evolution of Martian biosphere
"Life forms that might have come from Mars will have died because of harsh solar and cosmic radiation on Phobos," scientists said. The NASA and European Space Agency missions focus on potential life forms and evolution of the area of the Jezero crater. "By studying Phobos soil samples including material from Mars, scientists hope to learn about the evolution of Martian biosphere," Usui said.
Phobos and Martian crater samples research can complement each other
He said Japanese research on Phobos and NASA's samples from specific locations in the Martian crater can complement each other and could lead to answers to questions such as how Martian life, if present, emerged and evolved in time and place.