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Japan spacecraft drops explosive on asteroid to make crater

Japan spacecraft drops explosive on asteroid to make crater

In this handout photograph taken and released by the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on April 4, 2019, researchers and employees receive data in the control room in Sagamihara, which confirms the Hayabusa2 probe started descending towards the target 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.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, confirmed the impact with images transmitted from a camera left behind by the spacecraft.

The impactor was expected to detonate 40 minutes after launch, but JAXA will not know for certain if it worked as intended until late April.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 300 million kilometres (180 million miles) from Earth.

Immediately (within a few seconds) on dropping the SCI, Hayabusa-2 moved itself to hide away on the other side of the asteroid, shielding the spacecraft from any flying debris.

To accomplish this feat, Hayabusa-2 descended from orbit above the surface of the asteroid, where it had been hovering since approaching the asteroid on February 22, briefly touching down on it and firing a projectile made of the metal tantalum at the surface. The images showed the impactor being released and fine particles later spraying dozens of meters (yards) out from a spot on the asteroid.

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Last September JAXA landed two hopping robots onto Ryugu, also as part of the Hayabusa2 mission - making Japan the first country in the world to land rovers on an asteroid. When Hayabusa2 lands on Ryugu in May, it will be able to study the inside of the crater, where the ancient asteroid has not been affected by outside radiation, revealing an insight into the solar system's history. 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.

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. It's as close as we can come to getting a sample of the early solar system.

It is hoped that Hayabusa2 and the samples it has gather will return to earth by late 2020.

If the mission is successful, it will be the first time a spacecraft has collected asteroid fragments that have not been exposed to solar or space rays.

The probe is loaded with four surface landers, an array of cameras and even an explosive device that will dig out subsurface rock samples.

The Japanese space agency just blasted an asteroid with an explosive copper bomb in hopes of learning more about the solar system. The probe has a sample-return container, which JAXA plans to launch back to Earth in the coming months.