Staring hard at the live streaming video of the black Australian skies, I was hoping to see a faint streak of light glide across the camera’s field of view.
But no, it wasn’t that subtle.
Shortly after 9:51 am EDT on Sunday morning (or, for me, a far more civilized 2:51 pm GMT), the Japanese space agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa’s mission officially came to an end, burning up in the atmosphere. However, a few hours before, the spacecraft released a 40 cm-wide capsule, sending it ahead of the main spacecraft. This sample return capsule would have a very different re-entry than its mothership.
As I watched the small dot of light on the horizon of the streaming video getting brighter and brighter — feverishly hitting the PRTSC button and using some rapid cut&paste-fu in Photoshop — suddenly it erupted, shedding light on the distant clouds that had been invisible in the night.
Far from the re-entry being a faint or dull event, it was dazzling (as seen in the screen grabs to the right).
So, after seven dramatic years in space, the Hayabusa mission has come to an end.
For the full story about how Hayabusa got hit by the largest solar flare in history, limped to visit an asteroid called Itokawa and how its sample-collecting kit malfunctioned, have a read of my main article on Discovery News: Hayabusa Generates Re-Entry Fireball Over Australia
Note: Thanks to everyone who re-tweeted the sequence of re-entry pics. As of this moment it has received over 30,000 views on Twitpic!