Japanese spacecraft’s cannonball scars asteroid for life



It’s a good thing asteroid Ryugu doesn’t have feelings. Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission has not been treating the space rock with kid gloves. It blasted the asteroid’s surface in early April with an explosives-filled copper cannonball. Now it’s finally been able to assess the damage.

Hayabusa2 flew in close to Ryugu this week to examine the results of the Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI) experiment. It discovered a crater where the collision went down. A before-and-after GIF shows the rearrangement of the landscape.

The terrain shifted across an area about 66 feet (20 meters) wide. JAXA said in a tweet it was surprised by the size of the artificial crater. Hayabusa2 will examine the spot more closely in the future.

This was Hayabusa2’s first good look at its SCI work. The spacecraft had to duck out of the way to avoid any ejected material when it originally sent the cannonball packing at a speed of 4,474 miles per hour (2 kilometers per second).

JAXA previously shared a GIF showing the dramatic SCI descent toward Ryugu. 

Hayabusa2 has had a full schedule of asteroid activities since it arrived at Ryugu in mid-2018. So far, it’s sent tiny rovers to explore the surface and fired a bullet at the asteroid to collect some dust and debris to bring back to Earth.

The Hayabusa2 team will consider making a second touchdown on the asteroid to pick up sample material from the new crater.   

JAXA called the SCI project ‘the world’s first collision experiment with an asteroid.’ It was designed to expose the asteroid’s sub-surface, and it looks like it did a fine job of that. 

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