Japanese spacecraft bombs asteroid to make crater

Christopher Davidson
April 7, 2019

The copper explosive was the size of a baseball and weighed 2 kilogrammes on Earth.

As Hayabusa 2 made a swift exit to avoid a collision with the asteroid or sustain damage from the blast, it released a camera above the site that should be able to capture images of the event. Then Hayabusa2 will once again land on Ryugu - after successfully touching down on its surface in February when it fired a bullet into the asteroid - to retrieve more rock and soil samples.

Hayabusa2 released the SCI about 500 meters (1,640 feet) above Ryugu's surface around 11:13 a.m.

This time however, instead of collecting material that has been subjected to the harsh environment of space over the billions of years this primordial rock has spent wandering the cosmos, Hayabusa-2 will be able to collect freshly unearthed fragments that have never seen the light of day thanks to the explosive device that the spacecraft dropped.

JAXA plans to send Hayabusa2 back to the site after dust and debris settle, for observations from above and to collect samples from underground that have not been exposed to the sun or space rays.

The impactor was programmed to explode 40 minutes later, propelling the copper bottom towards Ryugu, where it should gouge a crater into the surface of the asteroid that spins 300 million kilometers from Earth. NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission aims to slam an impactor into a moon of the asteroid Didymos in 2022, to better understand how humanity could deflect potentially risky space rocks headed toward Earth. In a 2005 "deep impact" mission to a comet, the U.S. space agency Nasa observed fragments after blasting the surface but did not collect them.

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If all goes well, Hayabusa2 will take a closer look at the crater itself to study the interior of the asteroid, where radiation hasn't affected the rock.

The country's space agency has launched a key part of a unique mission, created to get underground samples from an asteroid, floating in space 300 million kilometres away from our planet.

"So far, Hayabusa-2 has done everything as planned, and we are delighted", mission leader Makoto Yoshikawa said earlier Friday.

As for Hayabusa-2, it's expected to make its return to Earth sometime between November and December, with landing set for late-2020. "'But we still have more missions to achieve and it's too early for us to celebrate with 'banzai".

Japan has dropped a bomb on a distant asteroid around 186 million miles away from Earth, with Hayabusa2 preparing to swoop in and sample the results of its controlled explosion.

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