The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa-2 on Friday dropped an explosive on a remote asteroid for the first time to form a crater with a view to collect samples of its surface and analyze their composition, which could provide clues to the origin of the Universe.
The Japanese special mission carried out its “Small Carry-on Impactor” (SCI) operation on the asteroid Ryugu. It said Hayabusa-2 dropped a small explosive box which sent a copper ball the size of a baseball slamming into the asteroid, and that data confirmed the spacecraft had safely evacuated and remained intact.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, called the operation a success and said that it was the first time in the history of space missions that a crater had been created artificially on an asteroid, Efe news reported.
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.
In the coming weeks, the spacecraft will investigate the crater, gathering materials from its surface and other fragments that were scattered after Hayabusa-2 blasted the surface of the asteroid, which has a very low gravitational force.
This waiting period is necessary to ensure that there is no risk of the rocks affected by this operation colliding with the spacecraft.
It is believed that the rocks on Ryugu, located 340 million km from the Earth, contain traces of carbon and water formed during the birth of our Solar System about 4.6 billion years ago, which could provide clues about the origins of life on Earth.
Hayabusa-2’s landing on February 22 came after travelling 3.2 billion km around the Sun in an elliptical orbit for over three years and after reaching the asteroid in June last year. The probe had remained suspended since then around 20 km from its surface.
The probe also sent three small rovers on Ryugu last year with the aim of collecting additional samples and is scheduled to make more landings before starting its journey back to Earth, where it is due to arrive at the end of 2020.