April 21, 2019

Japan space probe drops explosive on asteroid to make crater

05 April 2019, 11:24 | Edward Lowe

A rendering of Hayabusa2 at the asteroid Ryugu. NASA

A rendering of Hayabusa2 at the asteroid Ryugu.                  NASA

"We are thrilled to see what will happen when the impactor collides with the asteroid", Takashi Kubota, engineering researcher at the Japanese space agency (JAXA), told reporters earlier this week.

The country's Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully created a crater in the asteroid by shooting the "small carry-on impactor" - essentially a metal cannonball the size of a baseball - on Friday.

A Japanese probe on Friday launched an explosive device at an asteroid, aiming to blast a crater in the surface and scoop up material that could shed light on how the solar system evolved.

Once the dust has settled, JAXA plans to send the spacecraft back to the crater to collect samples of material that have been unexposed to the sun or space rays.

That probe returned with dust samples from a smaller, potato-shaped asteroid in 2010, despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year odyssey and was hailed as a scientific triumph.

NASA's Deep Impact project succeeded in creating an artificial crater on a comet in 2005, but only for observation purposes. Friday's mission is the riskiest for Hayabusa2, as it has to immediately get away so it won't get hit by flying shards from the blast.

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Hayabusa2 will move away from the area to avoid being damaged by debris from the explosion or the collision with Ryugu.

Images from a different camera at the bottom of the probe showed the impactor was released at the right position and angle.

'So far, Hayabusa2 has done everything as planned, and we are delighted, ' said mission leader Makoto Yoshikawa.

The news organization reports that the asteroid - named Ryugu - is located about 180 miles from Earth.

The mission will be the latest in a series of explorations carried out by the Japanese space agency's Hayabusa2 probe and could reveal more about the origin of life on Earth.

In February, Hayabusa2 briefly landed on Ryugu and fired a tantalum pellet into the surface that likely knocked about 10 grams of rock fragments into a collection horn.

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The craft is scheduled to leave the asteroid at the end of 2019 and bring surface fragments and underground samples back to Earth in late 2020.

FILE - This Feb. 22, 2019, file image released by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows the shadow, center above, of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft after its successful touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu.

Hayabusa 2 deployed the SCI and then moved to a safe location on the other side of the asteroid before JAXA launched the SCI at the surface.

Asteroids are "believed to have formed at the dawn of the solar system and scientists say Ryugu may contain organic matter that may have contributed to life on Earth", Reuters explains.

Hayabusa Two is studying soil and rock samples using several pieces of equipment. It may even land a second time to collect subsurface samples.

Asteroids like Ryugu are often likened to a fossil, as they are thought to have preserved traces of the time when the solar system was born.

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