Japan Bombed an Asteroid and There’s Video to Prove It

2.5-kg copper projectile dropping on Ryugu 1 photo
Photo: JAXA
As space exploration efforts grow in number and intensity, news of increasingly stranger experiments come to light. Recently, we were reminded of NASA’s plans to smash a spacecraft into an asteroid to see if it can nudge it a bit off course; but before that happens, the Japanese already dropped a 2.5-kg copper projectile on the head of an unsuspecting asteroid.
The Japanese Space Agency, JAXA, was trying to see whether the impact from the said projectile could cause a crater on asteroid Ryugu. So on April 5 the slug, pretentiously called Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI), was released from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft and hit the surface at a speed of 2 km per second (4,473 mph).

Scientists expect the impact formed a crater 2 meters in diameter (6.5 feet), large enough to reveal subsurface materials that are to be brought back to Earth for analysis.

Scientists will have to wait until later this week to see whether the experiment succeeded. Hayabusa2 returns then to the site, having ducked for cover on the other side of the asteroid to avoid impact with resulting debris.

“We expect that very small fragments will meanwhile have their orbits disrupted by solar radiation pressure – the slow but persistent push of sunlight itself,” said in a statement Patrick Michel from the Côte d'Azur Observatory, a scientist working for the Japanese mission.

“In the meantime we’ve also been downloading images from a camera called DCAM3 that accompanied the SCI payload to see if it caught a glimpse of the crater and the early ejecta evolution.”

These downloaded images have been compiled in a short video showing in slow motion the descent of the slug toward the surface.

This month’s experiment is not the first one conducted by Hayabusa2. In September 2018 two tiny robots landed on Ryugu’s surface on a mission to collect samples and return them to Earth.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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