The Japanese space agency just blasted an asteroid with an explosive copper bomb in hopes of learning more about the solar system.
The country’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft created a crater in the asteroid by shooting the “small carry-on impactor” — essentially a metal cannonball the size of a baseball — on Friday.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, confirmed the impact with images transmitted from a camera left behind by the spacecraft.
The photos showed a spray of fine particles from dozens of meters from a spot on the asteroid, named Ryugu.
“The mission was a success,” JAXA project manager Yuichi Tsuda said. “It is highly likely to have made a crater.”
But it was a risky one for Hayabusa2 — which had to quickly move away so it wouldn’t get hit by flying debris after deploying the explosive.
Once the dust has settled, JAXA plans to send the spacecraft back to the crater to collect samples of material that have been unexposed to the sun or space rays.
Scientists hope the samples will help them glean information about the solar system, since asteroids are material left over from its formation.
No such samples have ever been collected. In a similar mission in 2005, NASA blasted the surface of a comet but never recovered the fragments.
Last month, scientists detected hydroxyl-bearing minerals on Ryugu after examining near-infrared spectrometer readings by Hayabusa2.
In announcing the findings, JAXA said they could help explain the origin of Earth’s water.
Hayabusa2 is set to leave the asteroid at the end of 2019 and bring surface fragments and underground samples back to Earth in late 2020.
Ryugu the asteroid, named after an undersea palace in a Japanese folk tale, is located some 180 million miles from Earth.
With Post wires