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4.6-Billion year old asteroid sample unveiled at the Science Museum

  • A new free display featuring a 4.6-billion-year-old asteroid sample was unveiled at the Science Museum today;
  • Collected by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the grain-sized sample from asteroid Ryugu is on show in the UK for the first time;
  • The new display explores the importance of studying asteroids and what this could tell us about the origins of life;
  • Visitors can also see the display after hours at the museum’s free Stargazing Lates on Wednesday 13 September from 18.30–22.00.
Sample of asteroid Ryugu collected by the Hayabusa2 mission and a close-up of the model of JAXA's Hayabusa © Science Museum Group
L-R: Sample of asteroid Ryugu collected by the Hayabusa2 mission © Science Museum Group; Close-up of the model of JAXA's Hayabusa2 spacecraft, scale 1:20 © Science Museum Group

Today, a free display opened at the Science Museum exploring the remarkable Hayabusa2 asteroid sample return mission. Located in the Exploring Space gallery, the display gives visitors the extraordinary opportunity to see a 4.6-billion-year-old grain-sized sample - approximately the same age as our Solar System - collected from asteroid Ryugu, which is on public display in the UK for the first time.

Following a record-breaking August for the Science Museum when 411,500 visited, millions of visitors will now have the opportunity to see the pristine asteroid sample collected by JAXA’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft. The Hayabusa2 mission began its four-year journey to the asteroid in 2014. After months investigating Ryugu with state-of-the-art sensors and instruments, Hayabusa2 collected 5.4g of asteroid samples (equivalent in mass to five paperclips) – far exceeding the original target of 0.1g. After travelling more than 5.4 billion kilometres, Hayabusa2 returned the collected samples to Earth, which parachuted down to land in the Australian outback in December 2020.

Many pieces of asteroids fall to Earth as meteorites, however these become contaminated by Earth’s environment, limiting scientific study of them. The asteroid samples from Ryugu were sealed in a sterile container for their journey to Earth, with the sample at the Science Museum displayed inside a canister to preserve it while allowing visitors to see this extraordinary and ancient piece of the Solar System.

Heather Bennett, Curator of Space Technology at the Science Museum, said: ’We are thrilled to show this incredible asteroid sample for the first time in the UK. Our new free display at the Science Museum gives visitors the rare opportunity to look at an incredibly ancient object that was collected millions of kilometres from our planet. The display celebrates cutting-edge technology developed to collect this tiny, but important, piece of asteroid and offers a wider view of space exploration today through the success of JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission.’

Tomohiro Usui, Manager of the Astromaterials Science Research Group at the Institute of Space and Astonautical Science, JAXA, said: ‘We are delighted that a fragment of asteroid Ryugu will be on display at the Science Museum, one of the very first public exhibitions outside Japan! Similar grains from asteroid Ryugu are now being studied by researchers from around the world to hunt for clues as to how our planet formed and how we all came to be here. The story of Ryugu belongs to all of us, and we feel immensely proud of this collaboration with the Science Museum that will enable so many people to see a piece of this asteroid. We hope as you explore the exhibit, you will feel a part of this mission and our journey to understand the origins of water and life.’

left to right image: Hayabusa2 display at the Science Museum; Sample of asteroid Ryugu collected by the Hayabusa2 mission on display at the Science Museum  © Science Museum Group
Hayabusa2 display at the Science Museum © Science Museum Group; Sample of asteroid Ryugu collected by the Hayabusa2 mission on display at the Science Museum © Science Museum Group

The Hayabusa2 display explores the technological advances which allow scientists to study asteroids and reveal more about the Solar System and origins of life. The display features a 1:20 scale model of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft, as well as an enlarged replica of the asteroid sample. The display opens just in time to welcome back to Earth the first NASA asteroid sample return mission, with OSIRIS-REx due to return from asteroid Bennu on 24 September 2023.

The new display is located in the Exploring Space gallery, which showcases incredible items from the history of space exploration, include a real piece of the Moon, the spacesuit worn by the first Briton in space, Helen Sharman, and the Soyuz capsule that safely carried British ESA astronaut, Tim Peake, to the International Space Station and back.

The wonders of space are also at the heart of the Science Museum’s next Stargazing Lates on Wednesday 13 September. Visitors can take a mesmerising journey through the cosmos, exploring how technology transforms our view of the night sky. With captivating talks and illuminating workshops, attendees can delve into how we see and make sense of our universe and learn secrets about space that remain as yet unsolved.

Lates visitors can also choose to embark on a BSL-led tour of our Exploring Space gallery, while other activities include a talk by best-selling author Andy Saunders, revealing how he created the highest quality Apollo photographs ever produced. There will also be expert panel discussions exploring the geopolitical and economic implications of the current space race and the science of asteroids, from their role in the origin of life on Earth to the implications of asteroid impacts on our planet. Science Museum Lates are a free and popular adults-only after-hours event, which include talks and activities such as a popular pub quiz and the chance to dance the night away in a silent disco under real rockets in the Exploring Space gallery.  




Hayabusa2 display
Science Museum, London
Ticketed, free

For further information and interview requests, please contact Laura Nebout through, or 020 7942 4886. Hi res images are available to download here.


Stargazing Lates

Wednesday 13 September 2023, 18.30-22.00
General admission: free; VIP: £12
Age: 18+

To celebrate the new Hayabusa2 display, join us for an evening of stargazing to uncover how technology transforms our view of the night sky and how the ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 and the James Webb and Kepler telescopes help us view stars, planets, galaxies and nebulae. Meet Doug Millard, who curates space technologies at the museum, to find out more about the Hayabusa2 mission, join the researchers exploring dark matter in our universe, or create your own bejewelled constellations in our bracelet workshop. As well as space-themed fun, food and drink, and a chance to explore the galleries at night, all the regular Lates highlights will be here for you to enjoy. Don’t miss our legendary pub quiz and the chance to dance the night away in a silent disco under real rockets.

Apollo Remastered

Wednesday 13 September 2023, 18.30–19.30
Price: £10 admission only; £60 admission + book

Andy Saunders, one of the world’s leading experts in NASA digital restoration, reveals how he created the highest quality Apollo photographs ever produced. In this talk, Saunders will showcase images from every Apollo mission using our state-of-the-art laser projector to reveal detail that has been lost for over half a century.

Asteroids: The Beginning and End of Life on Earth?

Wednesday 13 September 2023, 20.20–21.30
Price: £10

Could life on Earth have originated from asteroids? And might a meteor strike end it? Humans have long been fascinated by asteroids, with craters influencing myths and legends in virtually every civilisation. We now know more about asteroids than ever, with projects like JAXA’s Hayabusa2 and NASA’s DART missions yet there are still so many intriguing questions. A panel of experts comes together to discuss these vital existential questions.


The Science Museum is part of the Science Museum Group, the world’s leading group of science museums that share a world-class collection providing an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical achievements from across the globe. Over the last century the Science Museum, the home of human ingenuity, has grown in scale and scope, inspiring visitors with exhibitions covering topics as diverse as robots, code-breaking, cosmonauts and superbugs. 2020 marked a decade of transformation for the museum with the opening of the largest medical galleries in the world – Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries and Science City 1550-1800: The Linbury Gallery – the story of how London became a hub of discovery during 1550-1800. The Science Museum was named a winner of the prestigious Art Fund Museum of the Year prize for 2020. Follow on TwitterFacebookand Instagram.


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