TechnologyCheck out the first pics of the asteroid crater made by a Japanese spacecraft
Japan to make crater on asteroid to get samples from inside
Japan's space agency says its Hayabusa2 spacecraft will follow up last month's touchdown on a distant asteroid with another risky mission _ to drop an explosive to make a crater and collect underground samples to get possible clues to the origin of the solar system.
In the first week of April, a Japanese spacecraftmore than 180 million miles from Earth — and now we’ve finally got the first images of its explosive handy work. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which operates the excavating spacecraft, released before and after pictures of the new crater site, showing a slight indentation in the rock that wasn’t there before.
The new crater is the product of Hayabusa2, which has been hanging out around an asteroid named Ryugu since June of 2018. Hayabusa2 is supposed to return samples of Ryugu back to Earth, and so far, the spacecraft has successfully completed part of this mission. On February 21st, the spacecraft moved in close to Ryugu and shot a bullet-like projectile into the object’s surface, sending bits of rock up into the vehicle’s sample chamber.
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[CRA2] Crater formation where the Small Carry-on Impactor collided with Ryugu has been confirmed! These images compare the surface before and after the SCI collision.— [email protected] (@haya2e_jaxa)
But JAXA is also interested in possibly grabbing samples from deeper inside Ryugu, and that’s why Hayabusa2 got a little violent with the asteroid. The mission team equipped the spacecraft with a bomb that Hayabusa2 deployed on April 4th. The device — a cone-shaped canister filled with explosives — detonated just over the surface of Ryugu. The goal was to create an artificial crater that exposed the insides of the asteroid, precious material that scientists want to study. The rocks located within Ryugu haven’t been exposed to the space environment for billions of years like the rocks on the asteroid’s exterior. That means this material is more well-preserved and represents what the asteroid looked like when it first formed.
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In order to figure out how asteroids explode, JAXA fired a projectile at one. The JAXA scientists want to accomplish several things, including finding out how big of a crater will form on Ryugu from the SCI. They'll determine the damage through comparing before and after pictures. Some predict the crater could be as big as 32 feet in diameter, while others expect something significantly smaller. “The asteroid’s low gravity means it has an escape velocity of a few tens of centimeters per second, so most of the material ejected by the impact would have gone straight out to space,” says Michel.
While this bombing happened, Hayabusa2 was far away from detonation site to keep the spacecraft safe. But the spacecraft deployed a mobile camera that caught the action from far away, giving the mission team an idea of where the blast occurred. Then yesterday, Hayabusa2 went in search of the site and found the possible crater it made.
Now JAXA will examine the crater Hayabusa2 made and decide if the spacecraft should actually go in and grab a sample. It’s possible the task will be deemed too risky to perform. But if the spacecraft does go in for a grab, the vehicle could soon be in possession of some very unspoiled rock that’s been around since the dawn of the Solar System.
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