Japan space probe drops 'bomb' on asteroid to study core

An artist's impression of the Hayabusa probe arriving at the Ryugu asteroid

An artist's impression of the Hayabusa probe arriving at the Ryugu asteroid

A timer on the SCI was set to give Hayabusa2 40 minutes to reach safety before triggering the explosive. But, provided it was successful, the operation will occupy scientists for much longer as they pore over images captured during the procedure. 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 confirms Hayabusa 2 has now dropped the bomb on Ryugu - the bomb, in this case, is the 5.5-pound (2.5kilogramsm) Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI).

"Hayabusa2 is operating normally", they added. Now the mission has gone a step further by attempting to blast a new crater onto the surface of the object it's been orbiting for months.

The Japanese spacecraft released the impactor from 1,640ft (500m), then retreated behind Ryugu as the bullet creates a cloud of debris.

Last night's bombing run was just one of many milestones that Hayabusa2 has checked off since arriving at the carbon-rich Ryugu last June.

Hayabusa2 successfully touched down on a small level area on the boulder-strewn asteroid in February, when it also collected some surface dust and small debris. (10 kg) lander onto the space rock's surface.

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The Hayabusa2 spacecraft left a camera behind to record the data on the rock's surface, as it had to jet away to avoid being damaged by shrapnel.

The cutting-edge spacecraft will return to Earth in December with its extraordinary samples. "It is highly likely to have made a crater". The resulting crater released a wealth of scientific material.

In a press conference following the explosion, mission managers were anxious about the potential debris from the operation, but said none of it made contact with the spacecraft.

If all goes to plan, JAXA plans to send Hayabusa2 back to the asteroid later to collect underground samples of water and other organic substances, which could help the agency better understand the history of the solar system.

Although the detonation was too small to move Ryugu off-orbit, JAXA scientist Makoto Yoshikawa said the ability to operate a probe to this level of precision marked "an important achievement in planetary defense" if Earth were threatened by an asteroid.

Hayabusa2 isn't the first deep-space bomber. In a similar mission in 2005, NASA blasted the surface of a comet but never recovered the fragments. NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission aims to slam an impactor into a moon of the asteroid Didymos in 2022, to better understand how humanity could deflect potentially unsafe space rocks headed toward Earth.

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