Japan's spacecraft drops explosive on asteroid to form crater

Japan's spacecraft drops explosive on asteroid to form crater”

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency says it's highly likely that probe Hayabusa2 has succeeded in the world's first mission of creating a crater on an asteroid to study its interior.

At about 11 a.m. on April 5, the impactor used to make the crater separated from the probe, followed by the detachable "DCAM3" camera.

"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. JAXA reports that the copper explosive weighed in at 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) which made it the size of a baseball.

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.

If successful, it would be the first time for a spacecraft to take such materials. In a similar mission in 2005, NASA blasted the surface of a comet but never recovered the fragments.

The so-called "small carry-on impactor", a cone-shaped device capped with a copper bottom, will emerge from Hayabusa2 on Friday, after the probe has arrived just 500 metres above the asteroid Ryugu. The 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. JAXA later confirmed the impact from images transmitted from a camera left behind by the spacecraft which showed the impactor being released and fine particles later spraying dozens of meters (yards) out from a spot on the asteroid.

The agency hopes to gather underground samples of Ryugu, which could contain organic substances and water that could point to the origins of the solar system, Japan's Kyodo News reported.

To avoid being damaged by the force of the explosion, Hayabusa 2 was programmed to move to the other side of the asteroid after it releases the bomb. The experiment began on the morning of April 5, Japanese time, and images of the event captured by a detachable camera were later relayed back over the some 300 million kilometers to Earth.

Mission leader Makoto Yoshikawa said: "So far, Hayabusa2 has done everything as planned, and we are delighted".

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, the spacecraft physically touched down on Ryugu and fired a small pellet into its surface. The craft is scheduled to leave the asteroid at the end of 2019 and bring the surface fragments and underground samples back to Earth in late 2020.

Ryugu is now located about 310 million kilometers away from Earth.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft, which has been studying the 3,000-foot-wide (900 meters) Ryugu up close since last June, released a 4.4-lb. Hayabusa 2 will eventually descend to the surface in order to collect a sample from the crater.

"One thing I'm pretty sure of is that it will throw up some unexpected results", said Bridges, who believes that information from Ryugu samples could make us think again about the early evolution of the solar system.

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