Dust collected from high speed asteroid analyzed with massive accelerator

Esen Ercan Alp, distinguished member of Argonne, leads the research team using ultra-bright X-rays from the Advanced Photon Source, a baseball-sized particle accelerator located in Argonne, to examine asteroid samples. Alp and his colleagues have worked for years to be included in the international group of scientists who take a first earthly look at these fragments.

“It’s very exciting,” said Alp. “We have been preparing this project for two years. We practiced our x-ray techniques on samples of meteorites that fell to Earth, but this was just a repeat for the real thing.

The Advanced Photon Source is the only American facility chosen to study these fragments, and according to Alp, this is because of a particular x-ray technique in which he and his team specialize: Mössbauer spectroscopy. Named after German physicist Rudolf Mössbauer, this technique is very sensitive to tiny changes in the chemistry of samples, and it allows scientists to determine the chemical composition of these fragments particle by particle. It is a technique that Argonne has been developing since the 1960s, and the laboratory is a world leader in its use.

During an initial round of observations in June and July, the team, which includes beamline scientist Barbara Lavina of the University of Chicago and Argonne and physicist Jiyong Zhao, recorded 25 points. different on these fragments using X-ray scattering methods on the 3. -ID-B beamline at the advanced photon source. In September, the fragments will return to Argonne and the team will perform more in-depth readings using Mössbauer spectroscopy techniques.


Lavina, whose background is in geology, is especially excited by the opportunity to study rocks that are literally not of this earth and that would not have survived a trip to Earth had they not been stored in safe in a spaceship.

She noted that the technique the team used is designed to closely study the state of iron in samples like these.

“Iron is one of the best record holders in rock history,” Lavina said. “We will have a unique chance to unravel a key piece of the puzzle which is the formation and evolution of our solar system.”

The thrill of being among the first to see these asteroid fragments is only amplified by their fantastic journey from deep space. Getting Hayabusa2 mod at 162173 Ryugu took over three years. The module landed on the asteroid in June 2018 and conducted its study for a year and a half.

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Dawn Valle

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