Hayabusa-2 bombs asteroid with copper cannonball

By Brooks Hays
Hayabusa-2's camera captured images of the copper cannonball striking the asteroid's surface. Photo by JAXA
Hayabusa-2's camera captured images of the copper cannonball striking the asteroid's surface. Photo by JAXA

April 5 (UPI) -- Last month, Hayabusa-2 shot a bullet at the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. This week, the Japanese spacecraft launched a copper cannonball at the distant asteroid.

The probe's Twitter account, managed by scientists at JAXA, Japan's space agency, announced the bombing mission -- officially, the "Small Carry-on Impactor" operation -- a success on Friday morning.


"This is the world's first collision experiment with an asteroid!" JAXA tweeted. "In the future, we will examine the crater formed and how the ejector dispersed."

Hayabusa-2's camera successfully captured images of the bomb's impact and the resulting ejecta.

"Hayabusa2 is operating normally," JAXA announced in an update. "We will be providing further information once we have confirmed whether a crater has been created on Ryugu."

Last month, Hayabusa-2 performed a brief landing on Ryugu after shooting the asteroid's surface with a bullet, kicking up debris for the probe to collect.

This week's projectile mission was intended to expose the asteroid's subsurface. On a future close approach, Hayabusa-2 will attempt to collect samples ejected by the bomb.

Hayabusa-2 first rendezvoused with Ryugu in June of last year after a 3.5-year journey. The probe will return the rock and dust samples to Earth in 2020.


Ryugu has a diameter of approximately 3,200 feet, four times smaller than 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the asteroid visited by the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe.

Planetary scientists consider Ryugu a potentially hazardous asteroid, as its orbit around the sun brings it rather close to Earth. If Ryugu struck Earth's surface, it could do considerable damage. Current projections suggest the space rock could pass within 59,000 miles of Earth during future flybys.

But scientists are mostly interested in Ryugu because they predict the space rock will provide insights into the solar system's early evolution.

"Studying Ryugu could tell humanity not only about Ryugu's surface and interior, but about what materials were available in the early Solar System for the development of life," according to NASA.

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