In the first week of April, a Japanese spaceship blasted a small crater into an asteroid that was more than 180 million kilometers from Earth – and now we've finally gotten the first pictures of its explosive practical work. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, which operates the excavation probe, published a slight indentation in the rock before and after the new crater site was taken, which was not there before.
The new crater is the product of Hayabusa2, which lies around an asteroid called Ryugu since June 2018. Hayabusa2 is due to bring Ryugu samples back to Earth, and the spaceship has successfully completed part of this mission. On February 21
[CRA2] Crater formation, where the small taker collided with Ryugu, has been confirmed! These images compare the surface before and after the SCI collision. pic.twitter.com/BZPYlHhSjs
– HAYABUSA2 @ JAXA (@ haya2e_jaxa) April 25, 2019
But JAXA is also keen to possibly take samples from deeper areas of Ryugu a little bit violently with the asteroid. The mission team equipped the spacecraft with a bomb that Hayabusa2 had stationed on April 4. The device – a cone-shaped canister filled with explosives – exploded just above the surface of Ryugu. The aim was to create an artificial crater that releases the interior of the asteroid, valuable material that scientists want to study. The rocks in Ryugu have not been exposed to the space environment for billions of years, like the rocks on the outside of the asteroid. This means that this material is better preserved and looks like the asteroid when it was first formed.
During this bombing, Hayabusa2 was far from the detonation point to keep the spacecraft safe. The spacecraft, however, used a mobile camera that captured the action from a distance, giving the mission team an idea of where the explosion had taken place. Yesterday Hayabusa2 went in search of the site and found the possible crater he had made.
Now JAXA will examine the crater Hayabusa2 and decide if the spaceship should actually go in and take a sample. The task may be considered too risky. However, if the spacecraft gets upset, the vehicle could soon have a very pristine rock that has existed since the dawn of the solar system.