Japanese spacecraft drops bomb on asteroid

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Japan’s space agency has dropped a bomb the size of a baseball onto an asteroid in an effort to understand the origin of the solar system. 

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft was used to fire the copper explosive towards the asteroid, named 162173 Ryugu, making a crater which it could then collect underground samples from.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) confirmed the mission had been successful, despite a high risk that the Hayabusa2 could be hit by flying shards from the blast.

Scientists said the spacecraft managed to escape intact after dropping the “small carry-on impactor”, which weighs just two kilograms.

Image: Hayabusa2 was launched into space on board a rocket

A copper plate on the bottom of the explosive was designed to turn into a ball during descent and crash into the asteroid at two kilometres per second.

The spacecraft took pictures of the explosive being released and heading towards the asteroid.

Jaxa is now analysing data to find out if the bomb made a crater.

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Scientists will then send Hayabusa2 back to the site to observe from above and collect underground samples which have not been exposed to the sun or space rays.

It would be the first time samples such as this have been taken, and they could be used to find clues revealing the history of the asteroid and our planet.

“So far, Hayabusa2 has done everything as planned, and we are delighted,” said mission leader Makoto Yoshikawa.

A Jaxa engineer points at an image of the Ryugu asteroid

Image: A Jaxa engineer points at an image of the Ryugu asteroid

“But we still have more missions to achieve and it’s too early for us to celebrate with ‘banzai.'”

Hayabusa2 touched down on a flat surface of the asteroid in February, when it began collecting surface dust and small debris.

It is scheduled to leave the asteroid – which is about 180m miles from Earth – at the end of 2019 and bring the samples back to Earth next year.

In 2005, Nasa carried out a similar mission on a comet and observed fragments but did not collect them.

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