Japan’s space agency (JAXA) has used its Hayabusa2 spacecraft to drop a bomb the size of a baseball on the distant asteroid Ryugu.
JAXA hopes to use the fall-out from the explosion to make a crater and collect rock samples from underground.
The space agency intends to study these subterranean samples for clues to help explain the origin of the solar system.
Hayabusa2 had to perform a rapid getaway after sending the explosive on its way in order to avoid the ensuing debris shooting up from the surface.
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Japan’s space agency (JAXA) has used its Hayabusa2 spacecraft to drop a bomb the size of a baseball on the distant asteroid Ryugu. This image shows the explosive dropped from Hayabusa2 spacecraft to make a crater on the asteroid Ryugu
JAXA hopes to use the fall-out from the explosion to make a crater and collect rock samples from underground. This image shows surface matter ejected from Ryugu’s surface following the explosion
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said that Hayabusa2 dropped a ‘small carry-on impactor’ made of copper onto the asteroid Friday morning, and that data confirmed the spacecraft safely evacuated and remained intact.
JAXA is analysing data to examine if or how the impactor made a crater.
The copper explosive is the size of a baseball weighing 4.4 pounds (2kg).
It was designed to come out of a cone-shaped piece of equipment.
A copper plate on its bottom was to designed turn into a ball during its descent and slam into the asteroid at 1.2 miles (2km) per second.
JAXA plans to send Hayabusa2 back to the site later, when the 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.
Scientists hope the samples will be crucial to determine the history of the asteroid and our planet.
If successful, it would be the first time for a spacecraft to take such materials. In a 2005 ‘deep impact’ mission to a comet, NASA observed fragments after blasting the surface but did not collect them.
This artist’s impression reveals what it may have looked like as JAXA released its 4.4lbs bomb towards Ryugu and before it made a desperate escape to dodge the ensuing debris
This image released by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows the asteroid Ryugu. This 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
WHAT DO THE NAMES OF THE HYABUSA MISSION MEAN?
Names of the mission come from the Japanese fairy tale Urashima Tarō.
Ryugu was the name of a dragon king’s palace at the bottom of the ocean.
The landing site has been given the moniker Tamatebako.
This is a sacred treasure box of huge worth inside the palace.
The tale states that when it is opened, smoke pours out.
The names were chosen due to the cloud of dust kicked up when Hyabusa 2 collided with the asteroid’s surface.
Scientists also say the rocks due to be returned to Earth represent the treasure mentioned in the story.
After dropping the impactor, the spacecraft was to move quickly to the other side of the asteroid to avoid flying shards from the blast. While moving away, Hayabusa2 also left a camera to capture the outcome. One of its first photos showed the impactor being successfully released and headed to the asteroid.
‘So far, Hayabusa2 has done everything as planned, and we are delighted,’ said mission leader Makoto Yoshikawa. ‘But we still have more missions to achieve and it’s too early for us to celebrate with ‘banzai.”
Hayabusa2 successfully touched down on a tiny flat surface on the boulder-rich asteroid in February, when the spacecraft also collected some surface dust and small debris. 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.
The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth.
Artist’s impression of a Rover-1A (back) and Rover-1B (foreground) from MINERVA-II1 as they explore the surface of Ryugu. JAXA announced previously, that after a three-and-a-half-year journey, the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft dispatched two small probes towards the asteroid Ryugu in an attempt to land them on the one-kilometre-wide rock
How it would’ve looked: An artist’s detailed impression of the historic spacecraft approaching the fast-travelling meteor, before it fired a metal object into it at 300 meters per second
This image shows the shadow, centre above, of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft after its successful touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu
WHY IS JAXA STUDYING THE ASTEROID RYUGU?
Jaxa’s Hayabusa Two probe is on a mission to study the ancient asteroid Ryugu in a bid to help scientists better understand the origins of the universe.
The probe launched in December 2014 and arrived at the dice-shaped space rock on June 27, 2018.
Hayabusa Two is studying soil and rock samples using several pieces of equipment.
Hayabusa Two (artist’s impression) carries a number of experiments including four surface rovers and an explosive device designed to gouge out ‘fresh’ rock samples
The probe is loaded with four surface landers, an array of cameras and even an explosive device that will dig out subsurface rock samples.
Ryugu, a Type C asteroid, contains traces of water and organic material and it is hoped that analysing this material will reveal what the early conditions were like at the time the solar system formed around 4,6 billion years ago.
Hayabusa Two is expected to return to Earth in late 2020 carrying samples for further analysis.