Spacecraft creates crater on asteroid with goal of unlocking solar system's origins

Spacecraft creates crater on asteroid with goal of unlocking solar system's origins

Spacecraft creates crater on asteroid with goal of unlocking solar system's origins

The explosive mission is the riskiest yet attempted by the Japanese space agency's Hayabusa2 probe that aims to reveal more about the origins of life on Earth.

In this computer graphics image released by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Hayabusa2 spacecraft is seen above on the asteroid Ryugu.

It's not the first time that Hayabusa2 has "attacked" Ryugu during its nine months at the asteroid. Hayabusa 2 will eventually descend to the surface in order to collect a sample from the crater. The force of the explosion was expected to punch the copper plate into a bullet-nosed missile about the size of a baseball that would hit the asteroid traveling at about 2000 meters per second. The team running the mission even hopes they'll be able to grab a sample of material from this location, to add to the surface sample the probe collected in February.

The probe will return to the site after the dust and debris have settled to observe the asteroid's surface from above and collect "fresh" samples from underground that have not been exposed to the sun or space rays.

That probe returned with dust samples from a smaller, potato-shaped asteroid in 2010, despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year odyssey and was hailed as a scientific triumph.

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. In 2005, for example, NASA's Deep Impact probe barreled into Comet Tempel 1, to help scientists better understand comet composition.

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

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 asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 300 million kilometres (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. The mission could also shed light on the role that asteroids like Ryugu may have played in helping life get started on Earth - by delivering lots of water and organic molecules to our planet, for example.

Launched in December 2014 from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan, Hayabusa2 reached Ryugu last June after traveling 340 million km.

Asteroids like Ryugu are often likened to a fossil, as they are thought to have preserved traces of the time when the solar system was born. If all goes well, Hayabusa2 will return its treasures to Earth in 2020.

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