Japan spacecraft drops explosive on asteroid to make crater

Olive Hawkins
April 7, 2019

The Small Carry-On Impactor of Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft is seen after separating from its mothership on April 4, 2019 (April 5 JST) just before it crashed into asteroid Ryugu.

The mission's objective is to collect samples both from Ryugu's surface and its interior and return them to Earth for analyses that should yield information on the materials that existed in the early solar system and give clues about the formation and evolution of planets.

The crater could be as large as 10 metres in diameter if the surface is sandy, but a smaller three metres across if it is rocky, according to JAXA scientists.

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.

Hayabusa2 is expected to return to the crater later, when the dust from the blast settles, to get hold of underground samples and explore the site. A similar "deep impact" mission by NASA that was launched in 2005, only observed debris. 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 unsafe space rocks headed toward Earth. The samples might also provide evidence for the theory that asteroids and comets are one source of Earth's water and its amino acids, the building blocks of life. 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.

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Hayabusa2 observes the surface of the asteroid with its camera and sensing equipment but has also dispatched two tiny MINERVA-II rover robots as well as the French-German robot MASCOT to help surface observation.

Markoto Yoshikawa, the mission leader, said according to the AP: "So far, Hayabusa2 has done everything as planned, and we are delighted. 'But we still have more missions to achieve and it's too early for us to celebrate with 'banzai".

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth. Japan's space agency says its spacecraft has released an explosive onto an asteroid to make a crater on its surface and collect underground samples to find possible clues to the origin of the solar system. You can check out Jaxa's entire live feed from mission control below.

The Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 has launched an explosive device at the asteroid it is exploring, aiming to create an artificial crater and take a look inside.

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