Science

Japan probe drops explosive on asteroid

Japan probe drops explosive on asteroid”

Japan's space agency said its Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully dropped an explosive created to make a crater on an asteroid and collect its underground samples to find possible clues to the origin of the solar system.

Friday's crater mission is the riskiest for Hayabusa2, as it had to immediately get away so it won't get hit by flying shards from the blast.

A live webcast of the mission room on the southern island of Tanegashima showed Jaxa staff applauding as the probe successfully completed each stage of the most critical phase of its mission so far.

At about the size of a large fridge, Hayabusa2 is equipped with solar panels and is the successor to JAXA's first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa - Japanese for falcon.

Shaped like a cone and containing an explosive, the SCI is designed to create an artificial crater on the surface. If everything goes according to plan, scientists aim to send the spacecraft closer to asteroid Ryugu's surface to observe the crater and maybe grab some samples from the freshly-blasted area. 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.

"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.

Japan's space agency, JAXA, tried to do just that with its Hayabusa-2 spacecraft, which was launched in 2014. The researchers hope that by watching how debris flies away from the crater, they'll be able to better understand what Ryugu is made of.

After dropping the explosive, the spacecraft was to move quickly to the other side of the asteroid to avoid flying shards from the blast.

The camera should be able to transmit those images, but it is unclear when the first confirmation of the mission's success will come.

The mission's Twitter account confirmed the spacecraft did not encounter any problems during the evacuation, adding in its most recent update that the mission was "steadily progressing".

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.

The spacecraft is scheduled to leave Ryugu later this year, carrying its samples back to scientists here on Earth.

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

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. Hayabusa2 will also descend and sample some of the materials dislodged from below the surface for comparison with the surface crumbs collected earlier in the mission.

The probe is loaded with four surface landers, an array of cameras and even an explosive device that will dig out subsurface rock samples. If all goes well, Hayabusa2 will return its treasures to Earth in 2020.



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