Early Friday morning, Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft detonated an explosive device over a small asteroid. The aim was to create a fresh crater that would later be studied by the spacecraft.
Researchers watched from mission control in Sagamihara, Japan, and clapped politely as Hayabusa2 released an experiment known as the Small Carry-on Impactor. The device consisted of a copper disk packed with HMX high-explosive. Once the mothership had safely moved out of the line of fire, the impactor apparently detonated, firing the disk into the side of the asteroid. A camera released by Hayabusa2 appeared to catch the moment of impact which sent a stream of eject into space
"It went flawlessly," says Harold C. Connolly Jr., a geologist at Rowan University in New Jersey and a co-investigator on Hayabusa 2.
[SCI] The deployable camera, DCAM3, successfully photographed the ejector from when SCI collided with Ryugu's surface. This is the world's first collision experiment with an asteroid! In the future, we will examine the crater formed and how the ejector dispersed. pic.twitter.com/eLm6ztM4VX
– HAYABUSA2 @ JAXA (@ haya2e_jaxa) April 5, 2019
The asteroid is a barren piece of rock known as Ryugu, and orbits between Earth and Mars. Researchers believe that Ryugu may be similar to the early space rocks that glommed together to make planets, including Earth
"These particular asteroids are the precursors to what Earth was made of," Connolly says. Ryugu is rich in carbon, and minerals on its surface contain water and so-called prebiotic compounds that could have started life on this planet
"The Ryugu is a time capsule," says Connolly. used to fire it into the side of the asteroid.
JAXA / Jason Davis / The Planetary Society