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
It looks like the Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS) re-entered pretty close to Australia in the end. The US Space Command released the co-ordinates of 48° S 151° E as the most likely EAS re-entry fireball. This is only 550 km south of the southern-most region of Australia, Tasmania. An eagle-eyed reader of the Universe Today also noted that the original location of re-entry being in the Indian Ocean was incorrect. As the Indian Ocean is separated from the Pacific Ocean at the 147° meridian, the 151° longitude is obviously well within the South Pacific.
All articles now corrected. At least the EAS didn’t drop into Sydney harbour… now that might have caused a “diplomatic incident”.