Science

Japan reveals artificial crater blasted into asteroid by spacecraft

Scientists want to take untouched rocks from beneath the asteroid's surface.

Before and after images of an artificial crater on a distant asteroid have been released by Japan’s space agency after launching explosives on to its surface in a bid to learn about its hidden material.

Since last year, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 has been hovering around an asteroid called Ryugu, situated about 186 million miles (300 million km) from Earth.

Rocks on the surface have been exposed to space for billions of years, but untouched rocks underneath could present a clearer picture of the asteroid’s state when it was first formed.

To collect samples from the asteroid’s interior, scientists sent a device known as a Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI) on April 4, while a mobile camera caught the action and the Hayabusa2 spacecraft waited from a safe distance.

On Thursday, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency released images showing the asteroid before impact and after, revealing a small crater that it is now examining to determine whether it is safe for Hayabusa2 to go down and take some material.

“The exact size and shape of the artificial crater will be examined in detail in the future, but we can see that terrain of an area about 20m (66ft) wide has changed,” the team tweeted.

“We did not expect such a big alternation so a lively debate has been initiated in the project!”

The touchdown operation is planned to take place after May, and scientists hope to send Hayabusa2 on its journey back to Earth sometime between November and December.

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